Colors: Purple Color

Retail trade union Usdaw has provided written evidence to the Low Pay Commission (LPC) on minimum wage rates. The LPC’s annual call for evidence closes today and responses will help shape the recommendations they will make to the Government this autumn on the 2022 minimum wage rates.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, says: “Today we are providing the Low Pay Commission with evidence of why we need a new deal for workers that includes at least £10 per hour, an end to youth rates and more secure employment.

“The impact of the Coronavirus crisis continues to be felt across our economy and society, even as we emerge from the current restrictions.

“Workers in retail, distribution and many other low-paid industries have shown just how vital they are to keeping the UK economy going during a time of extreme pressure. As we emerge from the pandemic, these key workers must not be forgotten and it can only be right that their contribution is recognised with a wage they can live on.

“The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the hours available to workers varied significantly across different sectors. Workers deserve a right to a normal hours contract to end the uncertainty many face.

“The priority must be to bring confidence back to the economy and ensure that people are spending again, by putting more money in people’s pockets. The National Living Wage should be increased at least in line with the planned target to reach 66% of median earnings by 2024.

“Usdaw continues to campaign for an immediate National Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers, regardless of age, so youth rates are abolished as soon as possible. If you’re old enough to do the job, you’re old enough to be paid the rate for the job.

“As the country tries to recover from the pandemic we need a new deal for workers that includes a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour, more secure contracts and an end to rip-off youth pay. The best way to thank key workers is to ensure fairness at work.”

Usdaw’s New Deal for Workers calls for:

·         A minimum wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers, ending rip-off youth rates and providing a living wage.

·         Minimum contract of 16 hours per week, for everyone who wants it, that reflects normal hours worked and a ban on zero-hour contracts.

·         Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings.

·         Protection at work – respect for shopworkers, abuse is not a part of the job.

·         A proper social security system, Universal Credit does not provide a safety net.

·         Job security, with day one employment rights for unfair dismissal and redundancy.

·         Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay.

·         A voice at work, stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions and end ‘fire and rehire’.

New analysis of the latest ONS figures has revealed that Staffordshire Moorlands has had the largest increase in average house prices in Staffordshire in the past 10 years. The study by A-Plan Insurance compared the average price of a house in March 2011 to March 2021, across more than 400 areas of the UK.

Staffordshire Moorlands is at the top of the list with a 53.80% percentage increase when compared to the average house prices ten years ago. In March 2011 the price was £137,293.93, whilst in March 2021, it rose to £211,151.49.

Cannock Chase is the area with the second largest percentage change over 10 years with a 52.46% increase. Over the ten years, the average house price has increased by £66,316.32.

Tamworth is the third house price hotspot of Staffordshire having risen from £125,096.62 in 2011 to £192,164.81 in 2021.  

Staffordshire’s house price hotspots over the past decade, by A-Plan Insurance

Area

Average house price in March 2021

Average house price in March 2011

Percentage change over 10 years

Staffordshire Moorlands

£211,151.49

£137,293.93

53.80

Cannock Chase

£191,412.94

£125,552.36

52.46

Tamworth

£192,164.81

£127,096.62

51.20

Stoke-on-Trent

£125,934.18

£84,175.77

49.61

Lichfield

£266,771.84

£179,851.35

48.33

Stafford

£242,090.89

£168,320.62

43.83

South Staffordshire

£260,723.63

£184,800.77

41.08

Newcastle-under-Lyme

£166,858.52

£118,928.38

40.30

East Staffordshire

£194,319.80

£139,233.46

39.56

Staffordshire

£212,282.58

£146,585.27

44.82

Coming in at the bottom of the list is East Staffordshire, where average house prices have risen from £139,233.46 to £194,319.90, a percentage increase of 39.56. The county’s second lowest average house price increase is in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where it has risen from £118,928.38 in March 2011, to £166,858.52 ten years on – a jump of 40.3%.

Lichfield has the highest average house price in Staffordshire, standing at £266,771.84 in March 2021, compared to £179,851.35 ten years previously, but has only had the fifth largest increase in price at 48.33%. The lowest average house price in Staffordshire is in Stoke-on-Trent, where it was measured at £125,934.18 March 2021, after a 49.61% rise from £84,175.77 in March 2011.

Overall, Staffordshire’s average house price has increased by 44.82% in the last decade. In March 2011 the average price was £146,585.27 and has risen to £212,282.58 in March 2021. Across the UK, the average house price in March 2011 was £165,648.54, while the latest figure stands at £256,405.17– an increase of 54.7%. 

Comparing the four nations of the UK, England has seen the biggest increase in average house price over the past ten years – 58.6% - going from £173,045.56 in 2011, to £274,615.37 in 2021. Wales showed the second highest increase of 48.1%, going up to £185,431.00 in March 2021, compared to £125,133.01 a decade earlier.

Scotland’s average house price has risen by 32% since March 2011 – third out of the four nations. It was £126,172.03, and according to the most recent ONS data, is now £166,566.05. Northern Ireland has seen the lowest rise in the UK, but the average house price has still gone up by 25.3%, standing at £149,178.24 in March 2021, up from £119,023.88 in March 2011.

Commenting on the figures, a spokesperson for A-Plan Insurance said: “Ten years is a long time in the property market, and in the time more than half of the areas measured in the UK have seen the average house price rise by more than 50%. Some places have seen the average price nearly double in value, reflecting just how important home ownership is to people in the UK.” The research was carried out by A-Plan Insurance, which has a high street branch in Lichfield and more than 100 nationwide.

The company, established in the 1960s, provides a personalised service to more than 600,000 clients.

With two weeks to go before the deadline, small and medium sized businesses in the West Midlands are being encouraged to apply for funding to help them adapt to new customs and tax rules when trading with the EU.

The £20m Brexit Support Fund, which closes 30 June, enables businesses who trade with the EU to access up to £2,000 of funding for practical support including training and professional advice on new customs, rules of origin and VAT processes.

Since launching in March, more than 12,000 businesses across the UK have registered for the fund. In the West Midlands, 264 businesses have submitted applications, with a total of £396,859 in funding applied for so far.

Katherine Green and Sophie Dean, Directors General, Borders and Trade, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said: “Smaller businesses who trade with the EU have a vital role in our economy and we understand they may have experienced a more challenging time than larger businesses in adapting to changes. We would encourage small and medium businesses impacted by new importing and exporting rules, to apply for funding today.”

To be eligible for the grant, businesses must have no more than 500 employees and turnover no more than £100m. They must only import or export goods between Great Britain and the EU, or move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

If businesses already import or export goods to and from a non-EU country, they are not eligible.

In addition to the funding, small and medium businesses can access specialist advice and support:

Additional support is available to businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland through the Trader Support Service.

With the final phases of the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions plan well underway, new research suggest that Covid-19’s legacy for some businesses could be that of innovation and bigger thinking.  59% of businesses have changed their business model as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, according to research by Langleys Solicitors, published in the Back to Business? report, which looked into the future of the region’s companies.

While digitalisation is an inevitable evolution for most modern businesses, the pandemic restrictions made it necessary for business to fast-track digital transformation. The report revealed that 48% of businesses now have a greater online focus, allowing them to refresh the way they work and helping them adapt to an increase in demand.

Almost one in three (30%) existing businesses are considering new products or services, following an increased or completely new demand for alternative services. Furthermore, 20% of businesses have introduced delivery-based systems into their businesses. While this was a move intended to bridge the supply gap during enforced closure, the business owners and directors polled plan to make these temporary changes permanent.

Interestingly, the region’s business owners and directors still highlighted a shift to online among their biggest challenges facing in the years ahead, meaning those that have used the past 12 months as an opportunity to innovate may be ahead of the curve. Despite acting with caution during the pandemic, almost two-thirds (60%) of businesses have made changes they were already planning, more than a third (39%) of businesses have brought forward change, and 23% have made planned changes bigger.

Tim Cross, managing partner at Langleys Solicitors, said: “It’s great to see the many months of lockdown restrictions have not been lost time for the region’s businesses, who have seized the opportunity to innovate and restructure their practices to face the future of their industry.

“Those who have adapted to the changes in consumer demands have been able to prioritise expansion during a time where other businesses’ rigidity has come a great cost. The clear desire of business leaders to continue with expansion points towards a real renewal of prosperity across the region.”

While existing businesses have made changes to innovate and adapt to new challenges, almost a quarter (23%) of the region’s business owners and directors expect new start-ups to enter the market to make the most of new opportunities.

Tim Cross continued: “It’s a positive sign to see businesses expecting the market competition to grow, particularly following a global recession.

“The increased competition is likely to have a positive impact, acting as further incentive for more innovation as new start-ups increase the fight for market share. While there is no mistaking the past year has been difficult for many, our research and experiences show that there is still a strong appetite to continue with their innovations and changes during the post-Covid recovery.

“More than 40% of businesses expect to emerge from the pandemic stronger than they entered and one in six (15%) business owners and directors will also invest more than they did pre-Covid. With these findings considered, and a new sense of optimism as restrictions ease, I expect that we are in for a genuine period of growth for businesses in the region. I for one cannot wait to see it unfold.”

Langleys’ specialist Corporate, Commercial Property, Dispute Resolution and Employment law teams are available to advise on any questions business leaders and owners have concerning new business planning and operations post-lockdown. 

A game of musical (empty) chairs, or a landfill disaster? The move toward home working could cause a landfill influx of millions of chairs and desks as offices close or downsize following Covid-19, warns BusinessWaste.co.uk.

The business waste specialists are warning of a mountain of unwanted office furniture making its way to landfill as companies embrace a new way of working - and closing offices as a result. A study undertaken by YouGov showed that a quarter of UK businesses are planning to close or downsize their office space as a result of a shift toward home working, with the BBC reporting that over 50 major employees have ‘no plans to return full time’.

There were over 6 million private sector businesses in the UK in 2020 (ONS) - the vast majority (5.94m) of which were small businesses, which have an average of 10 employees. If a quarter of businesses closed their office space, this would mean around 15 million desks and chairs no longer in use. London, as the nation’s capital, has the largest square footage of office stock at 140m sq ft - the next closest, Manchester (20m sq ft), Birmingham (18m sq ft) and Glasgow (13m q ft), are all less likely to see huge influxes of office furniture being turfed out. But even cities with a few million office workers are going to feel the effects - both economic, in city centres, and environmental, as office supplies are ripped out and unceremoniously thrown away.

Worryingly, if even half of the 1.5 million businesses looking to shift their working patterns merely downsized, it would still create an enormous excess of office furniture ready to be sent to the tip - and charity shops aren’t the answer.

A spokesperson for BusinessWaste.co.uk said: “Charity shops are full to the brim with stuff people have cleared out during pandemic spring cleaning - and most don’t have the capacity to store bulky items like desks and chairs in large numbers. Plus, even if they did, there’s no resale market - other offices are closing down en masse, so there’s nobody who wants to buy them.”

It’s certainly at risk of becoming a strain on waste centres. Second hand office retailers or reselling sites like eBay, previously a great choice for cheap office renovations or new businesses short of cash, are overflowing with second-hand furniture at ever-lower prices, and even waste disposal centres don’t have the capacity to cope with larger amounts of office furniture at once.

Mark Hall added: “Nobody wants - or has the space for - bulky corporate desks in their home working spaces. At the beginning of the first UK lockdown, furniture retailers such as IKEA and Argos were selling out of their more attractive offerings as soon as they were restocked

These desks tend to be smaller, with more chance of being able to match them to your decor - not many people have ‘office chic’ as the theme of their dining room or spare bedroom! As a result, office furniture is set to be heading to landfill in frankly alarming numbers.

“Some furniture types can be recycled effectively - chipboard and metal, both of which are key components of many office desks, can be recycled effectively, but it remains to be seen whether businesses take the time to separate them into the individual components and recycle them appropriately. We certainly hope so.

“Some retailers, such as IKEA - who are a popular choice, especially among smaller businesses who love their cheap and cheerful pieces, offer to buy back or recycling schemes, so this is something we hope will be used, too. But realistically, we are still about to have millions and millions of desks and chairs heading to landfill sites - a real concern.

“Businesses should not forget their obligation to dispose of waste responsibly, even in unusual circumstances such as this.”

As the average first-time buyers’ deposit reaches nearly £59,000, £12,000 more than a year ago, new research conducted by CreditLadder and Equifax found lack of savings for a deposit is preventing over a third (34%) of first-time buyers getting on the property ladder. However, encouragingly, 33% see the new 5% deposit mortgage scheme as the help they need.

Sheraz Dar, CEO of CreditLadder comments: “The new Government backed mortgage scheme launched in April is good news for many first-time buyers who have struggled to raise the 10% or more deposit needed to secure a mortgage.  But a reduced deposit isn’t the only thing needed to help those trying to get on the property ladder. One in five respondents to our research also said that the Stamp Duty holiday introduced last July had prompted them to look at buying a property and if it were completely removed for properties under £500,000 nearly half (48%) said it would encourage them to think about buying a property in the next 12-months.” The Stamp Duty holiday is ending on June 30th.

Affordability for first time buyers is also a barrier to getting on the property ladder, however Government schemes are helping make a difference for potential buyers. The joint CreditLadder and Equifax research found that 62% of respondents had looked at Help to Buy schemes, 26% shared ownership, 18% right to buy/right to acquire and 18% starter home schemes.

Lisa Hardstaff, Head of Customer Experience at Equifax adds: “The research clearly demonstrates the barriers first-time buyers are facing. However, it is not just about how much you can afford, the deposit raised or what type of mortgage is required – first-time buyers need to be ‘mortgage ready’ when it comes to their credit information too.”

To ensure first-time buyers are in the best position to obtain a mortgage they need a good credit history. This will allow them to secure the right mortgage deal for their financial situation. However, those first-time buyers who have traditionally rented can have ‘thin’ credit files due to a limited borrowing history. One way to build a credit history and show lenders that they can manage their financial commitments is to add rental payments to your credit report information and over time this should help strengthen an individual’s credit history and their credit score.

“The inclusion of rental data in mortgage assessments is a huge lift to improve financial inclusion and fairer access to the right financial products”, concluded Sheraz Dar. “This data insight provides lenders with a much more reflective picture of renters’ ability to manage their finances. Renters who make full and timely monthly payments should see a significant benefit in proving their ability to repay a commitment, just like mortgage payers.”

Brixly announced today they had become the proud winners of the award for 'Best Independent Web Hosting Platform 2021' for their incredible services to innovative web hosting for enterprise. Tailored specifically to the reseller market, including design and digital agencies, development agencies, and hosting startups, Brixly provides one of the fastest-growing reseller hosting solutions available on the market today.

Brixly is a web hosting platform that has been consciously built from the ground up to provide high performance in the enterprise market. In addition, the business now manages the hosting infrastructure, hardware, and support for over a quarter of a million sites, with clients in over 135 countries worldwide. "Brixly continues to answer the demand for reliable and affordable enterprise and reseller web hosting solutions in these changing digital times," said Dennis Nind, Founder and Owner of Brixly.

"Digital times are changing in the enterprise world, and the demand for high quality, flexible and affordable web hosting solutions has had to change with it, which is how Brixly was born.” Dennis believed in his initial concept of a reseller-focused hosting platform that provided stability, performance, and tools to assist with business growth. From this, Brixly has achieved a further accolade, 'Best Independent Web Hosting Platform 2021', which is another fantastic achievement for the independently owned brand!

As a result of the recent pandemic, the Brixly team has been challenged with a marked increase in demand from clients onboarding with Brixly, seeking out the best solutions for their business with such fierce competition. As a result, Brixly continues to provide the most reliable web hosting service for the reseller market available today and is proud to have achieved such an incredible accolade as 'Best Independent Web Hosting Platform 2021.'

Headquartered in Nuneaton, UK, Brixly is a hosting brand independently owned and provides one of the UK's fastest-growing web hosting platforms designed for the reseller market and enterprise.

City of Wolverhampton Council’s cabinet will next week receive confirmation that prudent financial management enabled the authority to balance its books during 2020-2021.
 
Notwithstanding the costs of managing the immediate emergency phase of the pandemic, the council was able to end the financial year within budget, without having to draw down any general reserves.
 
The Budget Outturn 2020-2021 report, which will be considered by cabinet councillors next Wednesday (JUNE 16), will detail how council departments carefully managed their finances over the year, including holding back on projects and keeping vacancies unfilled, to ensure the overall budget came within 0.26% of its target.
 
As the council continues to classify its budget as a red risk with a forecast deficit of almost £30 million by 2023-2024, last year's underspend will be used to ease some future pressures, as will a newly created budget strategy reserve.
 
Councillor Ian Brookfield, Leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, said: “Covid massively distorted our budget last year, it meant that certain council services were unable to operate as normal and therefore departments spent less than they ordinarily would because it was all hands to pump dealing with the pandemic emergency.
 
“This, combined with our planned and prudent financial management, led to a small underspend which will be used to ease future pressures because it is vital to remember we continue to forecast a deficit of almost £30 million by 2023-2024.
 
“This council has been forced to make cuts of £235 million due to reductions in government funding over the past 10 years and we have absolutely no certainty over how government intends to fund councils in the future. Based on the very limited information provided by the government, we continue to be prudent with our finances and we’re planning for the continuing austerity ahead until we hear any different.
 
“In the government’s budget earlier this year, funding for local councils was not mentioned, we literally have no clue what our funding will be beyond the money we have been given for this financial year.
 
“I continue to urge the government to give us the tools we need to do the job so we can deliver our ambitious long-term plans for our city and help our communities and businesses to ‘relight’ from the shadow of Covid.
 
“The impact of the pandemic is not going to disappear, it will be felt for years to come in terms of businesses which have gone bust, unemployment and associated problems of poverty and mental health issues.
 
“We need a guarantee of sustainable funding to be able to realise our big ambitions for the City of Wolverhampton, to be able to make long-term plans and so we can confidently emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever and looking forward to a far brighter future.”  

Since opening the doors of the first Hard Rock Cafe in London in 1971, Hard Rock International has established itself as one of the most globally recognised companies in the world. The brand is kicking off its anniversary celebrations by unveiling a new partnership with footballer Lionel Messi, who will serve as brand ambassador for the next five years, as the first athlete to partner with Hard Rock.  

The partnership harkens back to Hard Rock’s roots, as the brand’s world-famous T-shirts came to fruition when the original London Cafe sponsored a local football (soccer) team in the early 1970s. The team T-shirt featured the simple Hard Rock logo. The extra shirts were returned to the cafe and then given away to loyal customers. Eventually the restaurant had to set up a separate concession stand to handle T-shirt sales. To this day, Hard Rock’s Classic T-shirt remains an integral part of the brand’s identity. 

As part of the new partnership, Hard Rock has also unveiled a new collection of merchandise inspired by its new ambassador. In addition to the special 50th anniversary logo, the garments show some of the player's most characteristic symbols, such as the lion, the number 10 and his own logo.  This collection joins the brand's iconic merchandising line, available in all its stores and online shop.

“Over the past five decades, the Hard Rock brand has grown to become one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved brands, with a Cafe, Hotel or Casino located in 68 countries,” said Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International. "As we reached our 50th anniversary milestone, we knew that we needed to partner with an icon to help us celebrate in a new and unexpected way, and there was no better choice than the legendary Lionel Messi.”   

“I am honoured to partner with such a renowned brand as Hard Rock, and even more so at this historic moment - its 50th anniversary!” said Lionel Messi. “Sports and music are an integral part of my life, a perfect combination between my profession and my leisure time. Uniting both is a great success, and I am very happy that they have counted on me for this special outcome. It is an honour to be the first athlete to partner with a brand who has a history of teaming with music legends."

Allen and Messi have sealed this agreement with an original gift exchange. Messi has given him a signed replica of his golden ball, a gesture that Allen has reciprocated with an electric guitar designed especially for him. A replica of this guitar, signed by the player, will be displayed at a Hard Rock property to be announced soon, making it part of the most valuable collection of musical objects in the world.

The partnership is part of "Live Greatness", the new campaign that Hard Rock has launched on its 50th anniversary, which marks a before and after in the brand, honouring its past and while shining a beacon of light towards the future. 

As part of the campaign, Messi makes his debut as an ambassador starring in a commercial that unites his skills with the soccer ball as it takes its place among the cherished memorabilia of the brand.

June 14, 2021 marks the 50th Anniversary of Hard Rock Cafe opening its doors in London. To kick off this milestone, Hard Rock Café Manchester will be offering HRC Country Burgers for 71p during the first hour.

Courier-centric digital platform launches operations in Bristol, Manchester, and Cambridge; company CEO pledges ‘same passion, swiftness and rider advocacy’ in new operations as rapidly growing start-up eyes European territories.

Ryders, fast becoming a disruptive force in the UK's last-mile delivery market, today announced it has expanded its national operations to Bristol, Manchester, and Cambridge amid growing demand for its unique commitment to riders, and its ability to offer same-day delivery pledges to customers.

The company is also eyeing European markets for expansion by the end of the year, spurred by observations of investor sentiment favouring last-mile courier businesses with substantially better records on workers' rights.

"Our riders-first ethos got us immediate recognition in the British last-mile market," said Duncan Mitchell, CEO of Ryders. "We were able to grow on the back of that promise to the point where we could offer instant delivery and grow our partner network."

Ryders recently joined forces with Shopify partner Zapiet for exclusive last-mile delivery in the UK. Zapiet was largely enticed by Ryders' focus on improving conditions for couriers, merchants, and aggregators.

"We will bring the same passion, swiftness, and rider advocacy to our operations in Bristol, Manchester, and Cambridge, and we have every confidence that Europe will be a future success story for us," Mitchell added.

Ryders' last-mile delivery platform supports businesses in the management and scaling of their internal workforces alongside an on-demand rider pool. Since its launch in 2020, it has seen escalations in both demand and expectations regarding one-hour and instant delivery. Research by Supply Chain Dive in the US shows one-third of 18-to-24-year-olds to be "frustrated" with slow deliveries. And the World Economic Forum has predicted a 78% surge in worldwide demand for last-mile delivery by 2030. Further research from Fixlastmile has shown that 66% of millennials are looking for one-hour delivery options.

"From eCommerce and fashion retail to the innovative start-ups that are looking to disrupt their industries, Ryders stands as the go-to last-mile option as these companies look to keep pace with changing consumer expectations," said Mitchell. "We are committed to helping companies of all scales live up to their pledges of swift delivery first time, every time."

Ryders' advanced technology seamlessly integrates with any other platform, connecting businesses to a ready fleet of on-demand couriers, and levelling playing fields in industries traditionally dominated by larger companies with dedicated fleets. And as enterprises come under increased scrutiny for ethical workplace practices, Ryders is the ideal partner to protect couriers' rights.

Ryders has become a major force in the UK last-mile delivery market. It posted 1,000% month-on-month revenue growth in its first three months of operations. Founded on a promise to give the nation's gig economy a makeover, Ryders has seen more than 4,000 couriers join its platform and has reached an onboarding average of 300 per week. Its corporate team has doubled in size each month to meet swelling demand.

Strive Masiyiwa, a 60-year old Zimbabwe-born telecommunication tycoon who moved to London in 2010, has officially been named as the UK's first Black billionaire, according to the Sunday Times' Rich List. He also serves as the African Union's special envoy helping secure COVID-19 vaccines for various countries throughout the continent of Africa.

Masiyiwa, whose family fled unrest in Zimbabwe when he was just 7-years old, first made it to the Forbes billionaire sheet in 2018, with his total worth estimated to be around $2.3 billion. Earlier this month, he has also been listed as a billionaire on the Sunday Times Rich Times.

Strive is the founder of Econet Wireless, which is Zimbabwe's largest telecom and largest company by market capitalization. He launched the company in 1998 despite opposition from then-President Robert Mugabe and fought a costly legal battle for 5 years before it was given the go signal to operate.

He eventually launched a new Econet Wireless group, which now operates in Africa, Europe, South America, and the East Asia Pacific Rim. Masiyiwa is also currently a member of the Netflix and Unilever boards of directors.

A father of six and now living in London, he is one of the most prolific African philanthropists, providing scholarships to over 250,000 young Africans in the last 20 years. He continues to do so through Higherlife Foundation, which he and his wife Tsitsi founded.

Most recently, he helped seal a historic agreement with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Africa.

The Mayor of Wolverhampton has sent his congratulations to five charitable organisations from the city who have been awarded the country’s highest award for voluntary service. Big Ventre Centre, Friends of Bantock House, The Well Foodbank, TLC College and Wednesfield in Bloom have all been included as recipients of this year’s prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) - known as the MBE for the voluntary sector.

Wolverhampton’s five award recipients were among 241 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups across the country to receive the prestigious award for 2021.

The Big Venture Centre (BVC), based in Chesterton Road, The Scotlands, is a community centre with a “very special caring culture” which provides a wide range of services for all ages including its own radio station, tranquillity garden, café, a befriending service for the elderly, help for victims of domestic violence, advice on money management and during the pandemic centre volunteers have delivered meals and activity packs to families in need and provided socially-distanced doorstep chats to people living alone. All of this and much more is provided by a team of eight main volunteers and 15 helpers.

The Friends of Bantock House is a small charity that has been operating for more than 20 years and is run by 20 dedicated volunteers. The Friends are an enthusiastic and ambitious team who have transformed the Edwardian house, museum and park into a vital and vibrant asset that enriches the lives of many city residents and visitors.

The Well operates city-wide and provides emergency food parcels and toiletries to people in acute need across Wolverhampton and is run by around 100 volunteers. They helped around 10,500 people last year with demand increasing during the pandemic.

TLC College, based in Dunstall, was established in 1997, as a ‘not for profit’ organisation to help local communities, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with training, education and a diverse range of support services. The college promotes well-being, community cohesion, confidence building and offers accessible adult skill courses and youth development activities. It offers volunteer roles in various areas such as teaching, reception, admin and childcare. Its job search programme covers CV writing, applications, interview skills and business mentoring.

Wednesfield In Bloom has been running for four years to provide the town with the beauty and colour of flowers.  The team of 55 regular volunteers organise, run and promote the project and are joined by others for specific projects. Their green skills have been recognised with prestigious Heart of England in Bloom awards (2016, 2017, 2018). They received the Gold Community Achievement Award 2019 and were the category winner for Urban Community and as a result have been nominated in the Britain in Bloom finals.

Mayor of the City of Wolverhampton, Councillor Greg Brackenridge said, “I wish to pass on my heartfelt congratulations to the five organisations from Wolverhampton which have been given this most prestigious award recognising outstanding voluntary service. 

“We have a thriving voluntary sector in our city where people who care about their fellow Wulfrunians go out of their way and do the most amazing things to enhance and improve the lives of others.

“I am incredibly proud of the organisations named today as recipients of the QAVS and for Wolverhampton to have the most of any area in the region, five out of the 13 announced today in total across the entire West Midlands, is a huge credit to everyone concerned.”  

The Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands, John Crabtree OBE said; “Through the activities of the West Midlands Lieutenancy, I come across many people providing amazing support and giving their time to help others. It is heart-warming to see so many of these organisations gain the recognition they deserve. I am so grateful for everything they do and am thrilled that we can praise their efforts through the QAVS Honour.

“These special charities make such an effort to support others and, like many people and organisations, have faced some huge challenges in the way they supported their community through the pandemic last year. It is truly inspirational to hear the lengths and imaginative ways the volunteers have gone to in order to provide what is often a lifeline to so many who are vulnerable and in need.” 

Severn Trent is backing a new government campaign to help small businesses go green, as part of the UK’s drive to net zero.

The UK Government has launched its ‘Business Climate Leader’ campaign, encouraging small businesses to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050 or sooner. The water and waste company is playing its part by encouraging its own supply chain to make this pledge, and urging other businesses across the region to do the same.

Small businesses who make a net zero commitment will be recognised by the United Nations Race to Zero initiative. It’s a scheme Severn Trent signed up to earlier in the year, building on its own Triple Carbon Pledge of net zero emissions, 100% energy from renewable sources, and a 100% electric fleet by 2030.

Severn Trent CEO Liv Garfield said: “We’re proud to support the government’s ‘Business Climate Leader’ campaign, helping small businesses across the region to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner.

“We’ll be encouraging our own supply chain to do the same, working together in the fight against climate change. We’re already working with them on science-based targets, as we look to help the Midlands region build back greener from the pandemic.”

Last week, the company revealed plans to invest £565m over the next four years to help the environment and improve infrastructure across the Midlands, as well as creating 2,500 new jobs as part of an ambitious Green Recovery programme.

Severn Trent has also been named official nature & carbon neutral supporter of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games - including plans to create 2022 acres of brand-new forest and 72 tiny forests – each representing one of the competing nations and territories.

Small businesses who want to make a difference can register their zero commitment on the government’s new UK Business Climate Hub.

City of Wolverhampton Council has secured a deal to house the first ministerial department outside of London at the city’s new i9 office building.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will make the eye-catching Grade A and WiredScore Gold development its joint headquarters when construction is completed later this year. It will take up the ground and fourth floors, housing hundreds of staff, including ministers and senior civil servants, with the Council currently supporting MHCLG with recruitment for new vacancies.

The Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for City Economy, Councillor Stephen Simkins, said: “This is a huge vote of confidence in the City of Wolverhampton. The Council has worked hard to make this happen and we are delighted that our city has been chosen to host this historic move away from Whitehall. 

“It’s also a big endorsement of the Council’s ambitious plans to invest in – and develop – a new multi-million-pound commercial district in the heart of the city centre, right next to our new, award winning railway station with its excellent connections to London, Birmingham and Manchester. We are currently enjoying record levels of private and public investment with £4.4billion pounds on site or in the pipeline.

“Now, the kudos of being the first place outside of Whitehall to host a Government department will create a real buzz and interest in our city, attracting further investment which is exactly what we want to be able to ‘relight’ Wolverhampton after the pandemic. The city is the ideal location in the heart of the country, with enviable connectivity to the rest of the West Midlands and beyond.

“When the idea of MHCLG moving out of London was first discussed last year, the Council, local MPs and other stakeholders lobbied hard to make it a reality and that has paid off. This move could even inspire the next generation of homegrown civil servants and I look forward to developing a long-term partnership with Government that can maximise our plans for the City Learning Quarter, potentially leading to an academy for the Civil Service.”

i9 is located at the heart of Wolverhampton’s new £150million Interchange and is ideally placed to benefit from HS2 which will cut journey times to London and elsewhere dramatically. The city is also becoming one of the most digitally connected cities in the UK, with 5G and gigabit speed, full fibre broadband being rolled out at pace. 

i9 emerged following the success of the award-winning i10 complex on the opposite side of Railway Drive. The Council and leading property developer, Ion, selected Glenn Howells Architects’ design for i9 as the winner from a strong field of ten UK leading architects and urban design practices in a national design competition.

Contractors GRAHAM are progressing works and the building is planned for completion this summer. The finished development will provide up to 50,000 sq ft of Grade A office space, which has potential for 5,600 sq ft of retail or leisure space.

It is the next step in developing a thriving commercial quarter at the heart of Wolverhampton Interchange - bringing further investment and jobs to the city. The Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is also supporting the development of i9.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I’m pleased to announce that the i9 building will be our new home in Wolverhampton and look forward to opening the office later this year.

“This department is leading the effort to level up every corner of the country, so it is absolutely right that we bring decision-making to the heart of the communities we serve. I hope that this vote of confidence in Wolverhampton helps the city to attract other employees and further investment.

“We are already recruiting in Wolverhampton and over time this move will bring hundreds of jobs and exciting careers in the UK Civil Service to the city and the West Midlands. I look forward to welcoming staff to our new headquarters and as a Wulfrunian myself, will be working from the office as often as I can and enjoying the city once again.”

Downtown in Business is back to doing what it does best, hosting a flurry of events over the past fortnight as COVID restrictions are slowly lifted.

Celebrating a special commendation from the national Event Production Show awards this week, for the best in-person ‘non-music’ event in 2020, the ‘Livercool’ Conference in December last year, Head of Events Heather Thornton said:

“We have hosted six events across the country during the past fortnight, and the response we have had has been excellent. There is a genuine appetite for people to be out and about again, and it is fantastic to see business leaders and entrepreneurs being able to engage in-person again – without being told every fifteen minutes ‘You’re on Mute.”

“A huge thank you to all those who have attended, and particular thanks to the venues who have been so welcoming to DIB as we return to what is a bonanza of events for the rest of the year.”

Sustainable cooling experts are creating a roadmap to help reach the UK’s 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target, whilst maintaining food security for consumers and economic opportunity for the country’s food industry, as the University of Birmingham secures £2.9 million of UK Government funding announced today for energy-related projects.

Backed by £1.4 million of UKRI funding, the four-year Zero Emission Cold-Chain (ZECC) project will create the first detailed road map to allow the UK food cold chain industry to identify opportunities to reduce emissions.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the project includes experts from Heriot-Watt University, London South Bank University and Cranfield University - highlighting ways in which the industry can become more competitive whilst heading towards zero-carbon.

In parallel at the University of Birmingham and supported by £1.5 million of UKRI funding, the Heat Accumulation from Renewables with Valid Energy Storage and Transformation (HARVEST) project will develop new heat storage and conversion technology to help ensure that renewable electricity is stored in times of less electricity demand and ready for use to meet high heating demand in winter and high cooling demand in summer.

ZECC project leader Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Much of UK’s food is dependent on the cold food chain, which is also a significant contributor to the country’s energy demand. Our project is about thinking thermally and analysing engineering, energy resources, food quality and safety, finance and business aspects to crack the conundrum of sustainable decarbonisation of cooling and the cold-chain.

“We’re bringing together world-leading researchers, industry, technology innovators and customers such as farmers and retailers to look at the whole system and map the opportunities and challenges to ensuring that the chain can support UK-wide Net Zero goals and decarbonise while also meeting demand and being resilient.”

Professor Peters, who is also a visiting professor at Heriot-Watt University added that the food cold chain is complex and lacks integration between sectors. Technological challenges exist, but many decarbonisation issues are techno-economic or behavioural. The project provides fresh analysis in a field yet to be researched from a system approach, also targeting food loss in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations (12.3).

Researchers will identify how sustainability of the cold-chain system can be increased by exploring integrated measures covering societal, technical, operational and economic perspectives across:

·         Reduce: Reducing the need for cooling, ensuring optimal conditions for food

·         Shift: Transitioning to more sustainable technologies and working fluids and taking    different approaches to cooling

·         Improve: Enhance equipment and operation efficiency

·         Aggregate: synergies within the cold-chain to better integrate different cooling demands into single system

The project aims to deliver energy savings, significantly reduced postharvest food losses and better quality of product to UK industry and policy makers, as well as reduced emissions related to crop loss, by:

·         Updating information on energy usage and CO2 emissions;

·         Assessing how to maintain the quality and safety of fresh produce in the supply chain;

·         Designing strategies to reduce food loss;

·         Evaluating future cooling energy consumption demands and their impact on UK energy;

·         Using a systems approach to explore how to manage cooling demand; and

·         Determining areas of intervention considering available energy and thermal resources, emission targets and other commitments as well as costs.

The HARVEST project sees researchers at Birmingham working in partnership with their counterparts at University of Edinburgh and UCL to develop a microwave-assisted process to flexibly absorb electricity and then regenerate it through reaction between thermochemical materials and ammonia solution.

HARVEST project lead Dr Yongliang Li, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Great Britain curtailed wind power on 75% of days in 2020, with over 3.6TWh of wind power being turned off in total. The HARVEST project will develop new decentralised heat storage and conversion technology to meet high heating demand in winter and high cooling demand in summer.”

UK Minister for Climate Change Lord Callanan said: “The way we use energy in our buildings makes up almost a third of all UK carbon emissions. Reducing that to virtually zero is going to be key to eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050.

 “That’s why it’s important that innovative projects like HARVEST and ZECC in Birmingham receive backing to develop new and effective ways to heat and cool our homes and workspaces, helping drive down the costs of low-carbon technologies so everyone can feel the benefits of cheaper and greener energy.”