Colors: Purple Color

Big data is significantly changing many sectors of the Chinese economy, according to research by ICAEW, in partnership with the Shanghai National Accounting Institute and Chinese technology company Inspur. In its latest report Big Data in Chinese Businesses, the finance and accountancy body says substantial investment in data and associated technology is transforming businesses and putting China at the forefront of opportunities with artificial intelligence.

In 2017 there were over 731m internet users in China. The volume of data and users provides significant advantages – more data powers more accurate predictive models, richer analysis, and supports more advanced machine learning and deeper learning techniques.

Kirstin Gillon, ICAEW IT Technical Manager, said, “China provides an excellent learning environment about the opportunities to learn from big data. Two features put China in a strong position to generate and exploit big data – the sheer size of China, and its rapid adoption of mobile technology. The most transformational way for big data to create value is through new business models, but it can also enhance sales and marketing, operational efficiency, and product planning and investment.”

However, there are significant organisational challenges in realising the value of big data. The research and case studies highlight many practical issues that are common to companies across the world as they transition from legacy systems and thinking to become a more data-centric organisation.

Kirstin said: “traditional businesses in particular face significant practical challenges, they need to deliver much wider organisational and cultural change alongside technology investments.

“Exploiting data requires three skill-sets: IT skills in data, analysis and mining of data, and business skills to interpret the results. Accountants possess most of these skills, but they also need to have deeper understanding around IT systems and data. This will make it easier for accountants and data scientists to have good quality conversations about how they can use big data to bring the most value to business in the UK.”

Two-thirds of those running small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms are struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters as construction skills shortages hit a ‘record high’, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
Key results from the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey, which is the only quarterly assessment of the UK-wide SME construction sector, include:
•More than two-thirds (68%) of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners – the highest figures since records began in 2008;
•The number of firms reporting difficulties hiring plumbers and electricians (48%), plasterers (46%) and floorers (30%) also reached record highs;
•Construction SME workloads grew at a slightly slower rate than in Q3 2017, but new enquiries and expected workloads slowed more sharply; expected workloads among those firms building new homes showed a negative net balance for the first time since 2013;
•Fewer construction SMEs predict rising workloads in the coming three months, down from 41% in the previous quarter to 38% in Q4 2017;
•87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months, up from 82% in the previous quarter;
•Nearly two-thirds (61%) of construction SMEs expect salaries and wages to increase in the next six months.
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Skills shortages are sky rocketing and it begs the question, who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for. The Government has set itself an ambitious target to build 300,000 homes every year in England alone. More than two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers which is one of the key trades in the building industry. This has increased by nearly 10% in just three months which points to a rapid worsening of an already dire situation. What’s more, nearly as many are facing difficulties hiring carpenters and joiners. These figures are the highest we’ve noted since records began a decade ago. As a result, the wages for these increasingly scarce skilled tradespeople continue to rise sharply; that’s a simple consequence of supply and demand. This, coupled with the fact that small construction firms continue to face significant material price increases, will inevitably squeeze their margins and put a brake on growth.”
Berry continued: “The Government must take account of the worsening construction skills shortage with Brexit looming large on the horizon. The Prime Minister must ensure that the immigration system that replaces the free movement of people can take account of the particular needs of key sectors such as construction and house building. Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse, and it is not in anyone’s best interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system. On the domestic front and in the longer term, to ensure we have an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, the Government must continue to work with industry to set the right framework in terms of T-Levels and apprenticeships.”
Berry concluded: “The silver lining to current skills shortages among construction SMEs is that the numerous tradespeople and professionals, who may find themselves out of work following the collapse of Carillion, have a ready supply of alternative employers. The FMB is working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Construction Industry Training Board to match-make ex-Carillion workers with small construction employers in need of skilled workers. We’re also working hard as an industry to re-home the 1,200 Carillion apprentices who are the innocent victims of the major contractor’s demise. It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that these young people continue on their path to a rewarding career in construction.”

2017 saw a number of changes made to regulations governing the private rented sector and a record number of government consultations held in relation to letting in the UK, meaning there is plenty for landlords to consider and act upon in the new year.

Allison Thompson, managing director at property specialist Leaders, says: “From tax relief to energy standards, there is much for landlords to factor in to their calculations for the year ahead.

“Property is still the most attractive and rewarding investment option, but staying on top of changing regulations and acting accordingly will help landlords to stay one step ahead and to realise the maximum potential of their portfolios.”

Leaders has identified five issues all landlords should be aware of and work towards in 2018:

1) Mortgage interest tax relief

Between 2017 and 2020, the amount of mortgage interest landlords can deduct from their rental income before calculating their tax liability is being reduced from 100 per cent to zero. In 2017-18, landlords can claim 75 per cent of this cost at the higher rate. It is crucial all landlords consider these changes and how they will affect profits. Taking expert advice now will pay off in the long run.

2) Minimum energy efficiency standards

From 1st April, privately rented properties must have a minimum rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate. With very few exceptions, it will be illegal to let a home that has not achieved this and landlords could face prosecution. Taking advantage of voids and lease breaks to upgrade a property’s energy performance is a wise move.

3) Further PRA changes

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) introduced new, tougher standards for landlords with four or more mortgaged properties in September 2017. These standards will aim to prevent high-risk buy-to-let lending. Landlords should create a business plan and maintain all financial records to stand the best chance of succeeding in any future mortgage applications.

4) Carbon monoxide safety

Conclusions from an ongoing government consultation into carbon monoxide safety are expected soon and could result in new requirements for landlords to take measures in this area. It is currently a landlord’s responsibility to fit a smoke alarm on every storey of a rental property and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room that contains a solid fuel burning appliance.

5) Universal Credit

The government announced changes in the Autumn Budget that will see new housing benefit claimants able to receive the benefit for an extra two weeks while transferring to Universal Credit. This is designed to reduce rent arrears at the point of moving to Universal Credit. While this should improve conditions for landlords and tenants, some are still cautious. One option for landlords is to request direct payment.

Allison adds: “It can be tough to find the time to deal with all these issues and more, but working with a knowledgeable letting agents can ease the burden and lead to ultimate peace of mind. The cost of seeking professional help will undoubtedly be significantly lower than a fine for failing to comply.”

Birmingham Hippodrome has announced the appointment of its new Director of Finance as Time Maycock, who will oversee the commercial interests of the organisation and support the growrth of the theatre.

Commenting on his appointment, Tim said “This is a great opportunity for me, working with a great board of Directors to help Birmingham Hippodrome realise its ambitions. This includes not only being one of the greatest theatres in the world, but also nurturing the local community and investing in future talent through the artist development program.

“The financial health of the organisation is of vital importance if the theatre is to continue to provide unforgettable performances on the stage, invest in new artists and run successful events for the local community. I want to help the theatre reach its full potential, maximising efficiencies and making improvements to processes.”

The property market is enjoying a busy start to 2018, with visits to leading portal Rightmove up by nine per cent in January compared with the same month last year.


An average of more than four million visits have been made to the website each day so far this month.

As well as a surge in the number of people searching for properties, average prices are also on the up. Rightmove has reported a 0.7 per cent increase in the typical price of a property coming to the market in comparison with January 2017.


Kevin Shaw, national sales director at estate agents Leaders, says: “The early signs for the property market in 2018 are extremely positive, with online searches up and asking prices continuing to rise. The combination of these factors makes it the perfect time to get your home on the market.


“However, it is worth noting that properties are currently taking slightly longer to sell than this time last year, indicating buyers are happy to wait for the perfect home. As such, sellers should choose a reputable estate agents that can market their property effectively, present it at its very best for viewings and ultimately agree a quicker sale at a great price.


“Overall, our own figures back up those from Rightmove; demand is high, more people are registering with our branches and property values in all areas remain strong.”


The Rightmove statistics also showed people selling homes that are suitable for first-time buyers have the greatest chance of success at the moment, so those thinking of putting a flat or small house on the market should do so now.


Kevin adds: “The government’s decision to abolish stamp duty for most first-time buyers has taken thousands of pounds off the cost of getting on the ladder, making it easier for this group to buy and also for second-steppers looking to sell to move on.


“I expect first-time buyers to act quickly to snap up properties now before stamp duty savings are counteracted by rising house prices, so sellers in this market need to get their home on the market in the first quarter of 2018 for best results.”

A programme of free masterclasses is being launched to help West Midlands companies become more culturally savvy when working to win business overseas.

Organised by the Department for International Trade (DIT) West Midlands, the series comprises seven half-day masterclasses, all of which provide essential cultural tips when conducting business in different markets.

All masterclasses will be held in Birmingham city centre, with the first one taking place on Tuesday, March 20, when DIT will focus on language and culture of doing business in Switzerland. Future classes in 2018 will focus on: Scandinavia, France, the Benelux countries, Germany and Austria, USA and Canada and China.

Led by Gerti Willis, DIT West Midlands’ communication and culture adviser, each masterclass will also cover: different business and economic environments; business cultures: religion, language, values and customs; business communication and negotiation styles; overcoming common trade barriers; and e-commerce strategy.

“Being more culturally savvy is important for any company that is already trading internationally, that wants to penetrate new markets or is planning to export for the first time,” she said.

“Doing business with a new market isn’t just about getting your goods and services out there, it’s about building relationships and understanding the culture and etiquette that is expected. This programme will help businesses to become more successful and effective when communicating across cultures.”

Businesses can sign up for as many of the free masterclasses to suit their needs. All sessions will be held at KPMG, at One Snowhill, Snowhill Queensway, Birmingham.

A festive production of The Hundred and One Dalmatians has raised over £5000 for two charitable causes.  Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, both registered charities, joined forces to raise funds during The REP’s production of The Hundred and One Dalmatians which opened at the theatre on November 30th.

Various fundraising activities were held during the 6-week run of the show with the highlight being a special doggy crèche. The canine crèche, sponsored by Fish4Dogs, was the first of its kind at a theatre and allowed owners and their Hearing Dogs to attend a performance of The Hundred and One Dalmatians.  The crèche looked after the dogs while their owners watched the show.

Vicky Ryan, Community Fundraiser at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People said:

“We have really enjoyed our partnership with The REP and have been really impressed with the support from the staff, theatre goers and cast and crew.

“We were lucky enough to be offered the chance to invite a group of our recipients and their hearing dogs to watch The Hundred and One Dalmatians. The REP, in conjunction with specialist pet food supplier, Fish4Dogs, organised a dog crèche so that the recipients could leave their dogs with us in a safe a secure environment whilst they enjoyed the show. An area in the foyer was set up and earmarked for our dogs where they could relax with the wonderful volunteers who looked after them. Everyone really enjoyed the show and the dogs had a very chilled out evening too.”

The money raised will make a huge difference to the two charities.  Twenty pence of every pound raised will go towards the work of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People with the remainder going towards REP First and the theatre’s forthcoming large-scale production of Woyzeck in June 2018 toto enable it to be completely accessible to all by providing captioning and audio description at all performances.  As part of The REP’s commitment to making theatre accessible to everyone, the entire run of The Hundred and One Dalmatians was Audio Described and Captioned, meaning that audiences with visual or hearing impairments were able to enjoy these services on any performance.

Rachel Cranny, Head of Fundraising at Birmingham Repertory Theatre said:

“As a registered charity, The REP is committed to making its performances and activities accessible to all and we are delighted to have been fundraising in partnership with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People alongside our production of The Hundred And One Dalmatians. The support from Fish4Dogs has been really fantastic and the crèche was a very rewarding activity.”

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, now in their 35th year, trains dogs to alert deaf people to sounds they would otherwise miss – simple sounds that many people take for granted like the doorbell, alarm clock and even danger signals like the fire alarm. A hearing dog can also give a deaf person a newfound sense of independence and confidence helping to overcome the feeling of isolation and loneliness experienced by so many suffering from hearing loss.

REP First is a three year campaign which aims to raise vital funds in order to ensure that The REP can continue to nurture the region's talented young artists, commission exciting new works, welcome new audiences and reach out to the communities of Birmingham and beyond.

Black Country Chamber of Commerce are supporting The Black Country Road Run, which will be taking place on 1st July 2018 in Halesowen. The event is co-ordinated by Halesowen & Rowley Regis Rotary Club and new for this year is an exciting ‘Corporate Challenge’ has been launched, so the Chamber is encouraging local businesses to get involved to support their social impact strategy for 2018.


Local businesses can participate in either a 10k run or fun run, which serves as a great way to get colleagues together as a team building exercise or to promote fitness in the workplace. Furthermore, it is set to be a great day supporting the local community and ultimately have fun.


Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “We're very excited to be partnering with The Black Country Road Run and Halesowen & Rowley Regis Rotary, and we look forward to supporting the event. We encourage all of our members and the local business community to get involved in this popular road race, and help to raise money and awareness for your chosen charities.”


Alan Bowler, Event Organiser of the Black Country Road Run, added: “The Rotary Club of Halesowen & Rowley Regis is very pleased to be partnering with the Black Country Chamber of Commerce for the Black Country Road Run in Halesowen this year. This will be the seventh year for The Black Country Run and for the first time we are holding the new Corporate Challenge. We are challenging Black Country businesses to enter teams of five runners into either the 10k Road Race or the Family Fun Run and take part in this competitive team-building experience. The main aim of the Corporate Challenge is of course for companies to raise as much money as possible for their chosen charity.”

The Overwatch League and social video service Twitch announced a historic esports media-rights partnership, ensuring that every match of the world’s first major global city-based esports league will be readily available to fans across the globe. The first match of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season goes live on Twitch this Wednesday, January 10, on

Fans of professional Overwatch have been eagerly anticipating a seamless Overwatch League viewing experience. This two-year deal, which encompasses the entirety of the league’s first two seasons, makes that a reality. With the exception of China, Twitch will be the exclusive worldwide third-party digital provider for Overwatch League regular-season, playoffs, and championship matches, with streams in English, Korean, and French.

The Overwatch League and Twitch also are developing innovative rewards for fans, which will bestow the league’s most steadfast viewers with Overwatch League in-game items. More details about exclusive content and additional rewards for the biggest fans, as well as Cheering with Overwatch League Cheermotes, will be announced as they become available.

“Our fans love to engage with content on Twitch, and we wanted to drive significant viewership of the Overwatch League in its inaugural season and beyond,” said Armin Zerza, COO of Blizzard Entertainment. “That’s why this historic and ground-breaking partnership is perfectly suited for Activision Blizzard, for Twitch, and—most importantly—for our growing global fanbase.”

“The Overwatch League is making a major impact on esports by reshaping the industry with city-based teams,” said Kevin Lin, COO of Twitch. “Given Overwatch’s consistent reign as a top-viewed game by our community, we look forward to offering their pioneering style of league play to a large and passionate fanbase that will be able to bond over not only their favorite plays, but hometown pride.”

The first season of the Overwatch League will run until June, with playoffs and finals scheduled for July. For the inaugural season, all games will take place at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, a state-of-the-art live-event venue in Burbank, California, custom-renovated for Blizzard Entertainment esports events.

Move over ITB and WTM – for travel brands serious about capturing lucrative Japanese outbound market share, JATA’s Tourism Expo Japan is now the world’s premier exhibiting event. This powerful platform to cost-effectively raise awareness, and engage and conduct meaningful business with qualified buyers, has opened 2018 exhibitor and buyer registration.

Hiromo Tagawa, Chairman of the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA), notes a shift for Japan to not only set global per diem spending standards with outbound tourism, but he also sees his country as a nation based on tourism exchange, citing more than 50 million inbound visitors to Japan annually.

All of which makes Japan one of the most important global players for both inbound and outbound tourism, and Tourism Expo Japan a crucial trade event to attend in 2018.

Without fanfare, the Tourism Expo Japan, organized by JATA, has quietly emerged as the leading global travel/tourism show event for brands to capture inbound and outbound market share. This year’s Expo is being staged at Tokyo Big Sight, September 20-23, 2018.

The buy-to-let market will continue to offer landlords fabulous opportunities in 2018, but identifying locations in which the largest returns are likely to be on offer will once again be the key to a great investment.

Property specialist Leaders has picked out the top five towns and cities it expects to deliver the greatest returns on investment over the next year.


5) Nottingham

The East Midlands is likely to be one of the hotspots when it comes to the buy-to-let market in 2018, with affordable purchase prices and sky-high tenant demand combining to form ideal conditions for investors. Nottingham is one of the UK’s largest cities, has a huge student population and is set to benefit from the HS2 development. West Bridgford and Bingham are set to remain popular with students and families alike.


4) Croydon

Croydon has already witnessed significant house price rises in recent years, but average property values remain some way behind London as a whole and with new developments and investment continuing at pace the borough is expected to narrow the gap in 2018 and beyond. The introduction of Boxpark and potential arrival of a Westfield shopping centre will add value. While purchase prices may be large for some landlords, tenant demand is fierce and capital growth will ensure a highly successful investment.


3) Loughborough

Leaders believes house prices in Leicestershire are likely to grow by more than ten per cent in the next five years, meaning an investment in property in the county is sure to lead to a great return. Loughborough is well placed to capitalise on this trend, with a good range of housing available, a large local student population and high demand from all types of tenants.


2) Manchester

Manchester is one of the UK’s fastest growing cities as a result of a number of regeneration projects. With a thriving city centre, the digital zone of the Northern Quarter and the brand new tech hub at Salford Quays, it is now home to a huge number of companies that are bringing jobs and professional tenants to the area. What’s more, the city boasts a six-figure student population, so there is no shortage of demand for rental properties. Yields are incredibly high – often above six per cent – in areas such as Fallowfield and Chorlton.


1) Birmingham

A lack of supply and high demand has pushed rental prices up in Birmingham and this is expected to continue in 2018 and beyond, making the city a lucrative place to invest. From stylish city centre apartments to large family homes in suburbs like Edgbaston, there is something for all types of landlord in the area. With more than a million people calling Birmingham home, landlords can invest with confidence in the local rental market and returns will continue to be great in the new year.

If your list of New Year’s resolutions is similar to many others, it probably includes saving more money. But, like vowing to get fit, this one is easy to fail at, especially if the plan of action is a little vague.

Success is much easier if you have a plan to follow. So, to help you get on the right track, here are seven ways to change your financial situation in 2018.

Split your income and outgoings into percentages It sounds simple, but going back to basics and actually sitting down and working out what income you have coming in, and what is going out, will give you a clear picture of what is left over to enjoy or save.

Consider all your bills, including rent or a mortgage and utilities; this may eat up around 50% of your income. Then there is your mobile phone, petrol, broadband, food and other subscriptions to think about, which for a lot of us comes to around another 20%. That would leave you with close to a third left over. If you chose to save a half of this remaining income, you could build a very useful rainy day or emergency fund. For example, for someone earning the UK average annual salary of £27,6001 this would add up to over £3,000 per year.

Tackle any debt This one always tops the list, and for good reason. Loans and credit cards often have high-interest rates, making them incredibly expensive. Reducing or even clearing monthly repayments can feel like a huge weight lifted. Plus, it means you have extra money at your disposable and the really savvy thing to do is to put some or all of this cash into savings and investments.

Quick and effective ways to help you clear debts faster include consolidating multiple debts, reducing your interest rate by switching to a different provider, and avoiding making the minimum payments only.


Put money away straight after you have been paid If you earn £10 an hour, every £10 you spend is one more hour that you have to work before you can retire. That’s a pretty big incentive to save! 

Many people try and save at the end of the month, hoping there is enough left after bills and spending. The problem is there usually isn’t money left – when we consider it available, it will be spent!

To overcome this, pay yourself first. You can put the money into an easy-access account so you can use some of it is absolutely necessary, until you adjust to having less to spend

To really make the most of savings you will want to get the highest interest rate possible and not lose the growth to tax, so high-interest accounts and ISAs should be considered.


Don’t forget about your pension Pensions are one of the most efficient savings vehicles at your disposal, offering tax-free growth, and tax relief on all your personal contributions. Plus, if you have a workplace scheme then most of the time your employer will also make contributions, which is effectively free money.

For example, from April 2018 a person on the UK average annual salary will be required to contribute £55.20 per month to their workplace pension. If they are a basic rate taxpayer then this contribution rises to £115 once tax relief and the employer’s contribution have been taken into account2.

This supercharges your saving efforts and can make a huge difference to the eventual size of your fund. Better yet, thanks to the new pension rules the money can be accessed in full from the age of 55. 

Considering switching service providers In this age of digital banking and direct debits, much of our spending is automated and it is easy to overlook where money is going. Looking into switching utility, mobile phone contract and broadband providers could save you considerable sums across the year.

There are often good deals in the new year but do check renewal dates as some providers charge an exit fee.

Plan ahead for bigger expenses Some expenses in life are unexpected, but there are others that we know are coming. Christmas happens at the same time every year, as do birthdays, anniversaries and even renewal dates for car tax and insurance. Yet, even with a full 12 months’ notice on these, it’s easy to leave it until the last minute to plan for these events and then panic about the expenditure. 

To break the cycle, spread the cost over the year. Decide how much everything may cost you across the year, and divide that number by 12 to see how much you need to set aside each month. This way you will always have the money ready, removing one of the main temptations to spend on a credit card. It’s far better to set aside £50 a month for everything than have to raid the savings for several hundreds of pounds when times are tight! 

Jamie Smith-Thompson, managing director at Portafina, concludes: “Sorting out the finances is on so many new year lists for a very good reason, it’s massively important! And to make it work, the best bit of advice to follow is: set realistic targets.

“If you aim sky high and fall at the first hurdle it can be thoroughly demoralising. And that’s when it’s easy to slip into ‘I’ll put it off again until next year’ mode. If you are realistic about what you can do with your finances you will generally meet your goals. This means a double-whammy of feeling good about yourself now and setting up a more secure future for you and your family.”

Applications to host an event in the Black Country Business Festival are being accepted until 22 February 2018.

The Business Festival, led by the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and supported by the University of Wolverhampton and Talbots Law, is a new two-week ‘festival’ of business events that will exclusively be staged in the Black Country between 23 April and 4 May 2018.

The Festival is largely ‘business to business’ with events put on by local companies to help other Black Country businesses and individuals to learn from each other, share and grow.

The programme will be made up of a diverse range of events that will also draw attention to the Black Country, showing investors what this area has to offer and what a fantastic place it is to live, work and do business.

Anyone can apply to run an event in the Business Festival – which can take any shape from a seminar or workshop through to a trade show or major conference. A short application form is available on the Business Festival website until 22 February.

Around 100 events are expected to take place over the fortnight. Already, nearly 50 expressions of interest and almost 20 formal applications have been received with many more expected in the New Year.

A list of venues offering free or heavily discounted rates to those organising an event in the Business Festival are available on the website at

Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce said, “The Black Country Business Festival is going to be the biggest business event that has ever taken place in our region and everyone needs to get involved whether this is supporting the Festival as an partner, hosting an event or offering free venues where other Black Country organisations can hold their events.

“We are incredibly proud of our area, our heritage, our businesses and the can-do attitude of our people. Now is the time to stand on a national stage and show the rest of the country what a brilliant place the Black Country is to be.

“The event application process is only open until 22 February so I would encourage everyone to get their applications in as soon as possible”

To get involved including hosting an event, sponsoring or offering venues for use during the Business Festival, visit the website at or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

More information about how to host an amazing event in the Black Country Business Festival is also available on the website at


The Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund, is officially open for business, with the first loans being awarded to growing businesses across the Midlands. The MEIF is delivered by the British Business Bank and the Fund is investing £120 million of debt finance and small business loans to eligible firms. This initial tranche of funding is part of a wider £250 million of resource targeted towards the region’s start-ups, scale-ups and SME community.

Loans have been made across the Midlands with four companies benefitting from finance to date to support their growth aspirations:

Direct Digital Controls, in Brierley Hill, West Midlands is a business that specialises in the installation and maintenance of energy and environmental control systems. With the MEIF investment, the firm is poised to take on four new employees, train an additional apprentice and expand its growing wired and lighting controls divisions.

Leicester-based BCME, owner of specialist education provider Echo Factory has received finance from MEIF, which will be deployed to market its degree-level music courses, maximising student numbers and empowering the institution to become self-sustaining.

Nottingham-based medical devices company Olberon, has produced a cannulation device that is used in the medical industry. The funding will have a significant impact on commercial sales globally, by allowing them to develop existing links with distributors, and by helping them market more effectively.

Milton Keynes’ Renewable ON Ltd, a clean energy specialist supplies and installs quality bespoke solar powered LED outdoor and street lighting solutions to both public and private sector.  Primarily the loan funds are required for cash flow including stock, wages and marketing to fulfil initial orders.

Nick Pulley, Chair of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund’s Strategic Oversight Board, said: “It is heartening to see the first businesses tap into the opportunities presented by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and having built a strong pipeline of deals, the fund is well set to accelerate this progress. SMEs that are in the market for external finance and have growth aspirations should check the website and seek out fund managers to find out how the MEIF could take their business to the next level.”

Patrick Magee, Chief Commercial Officer at the British Business Bank, commented: “Our aim is to make finance markets work better for smaller businesses and address regional inequalities in funding. Through our work with the MEIF, we’re poised to support investment, growth and job creation throughout the Midlands.”

Ajay Naik, Director at BCME, said: “At this stage of the business cycle, it is often challenging to engage with mainstream lenders, we were surprised by how straightforward and logical the MEIF’s lending process was. It’s been hugely refreshing to speak to fund managers, in person, to explain the merits, strengths and aspirations of Echo Factory and via the support provided unlock the next step in our growth. We’re now poised to significantly bolster our 2018 student intake and further expand the range of courses available to those looking to enrol.”

Bob Taylor, Director at Direct Digital Controls, added:

“Securing finance from MEIF is a pivotal step in the future of our business growth, giving us the backing we need to expand and reach out to new customers UK-wide. Meaningful expansion requires extra talent and an investment in new business, we’re now ready to take the next step.”

The MEIF will invest in debt finance and small business loans, ranging from £25,000 to £1.5m, through appointed Fund Managers – Enterprise Loans East Midlands, BCRS Business Loans and Maven Capital Partners. For more information on the funding available, please visit

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

More regional companies experienced export growth to Europe than market shrinkage in the past 12 months, a survey has shown.

The collective results of the six Midlands based Chambers of Commerce, which together represent over 15,000 companies, highlight some crucial implications for businesses currently exporting and looking to grow export sales post Brexit.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce International Trade Survey, 25% of Midlands firms that took part in the survey reported that they’d seen growth in sales to Western Europe compared with 18% that reported a decline.

And 19% of firms reported growth in sales to Central and Eastern Europe compared with 12% that said sales had fallen.

Net export sales growth was also recorded for China (8%), India (5%), Australasia (10%), Middle East & North Africa (3%) and North America (14%).

But for many of the 388 Midlands firms that completed the survey, of which 186 were exporters, the outcome of Brexit talks was seen as a potential risk to continuing to trade with the EU, with 43% saying they were concerned about tariffs and 36% worrying about customs barriers.

A similar picture emerged when it came to import purchases.

Work permits and visas were a worry for 11% of respondents and 8% were concerned about having access to foreign workers.

Over a quarter (27%) of firms said they did not foresee any significant barriers to international trade while 38% said they had already started or planned in the future to revise growth strategies.

However, 41% of respondents said they expected their costs to slightly increase in the next 12 months as a result of the devaluation in sterling, with 27% saying they expected significant increases.

The survey also found that many businesses trading abroad are leaving themselves exposed to currency fluctuations, with under half (45%) of Midlands firms not taking proactive steps to manage currency risk.

The findings of the survey highlight the extent to which the depreciation in sterling is expected to compound the price pressures on firms, underlining the need to ease the domestic cost of doing business.

Only 5% of firms expected their costs to slightly decrease, with 2% expecting a significant decrease.

Sophia Haywood, Midlands Chambers’ Policy Group Coordinator said: “The findings highlight the extent to which the depreciation in sterling is expected to compound the price pressures on firms, underlining the need to ease the domestic cost of doing business.”

“There is also a clear need for more support and information for exporting businesses on the importance of managing currency risk.”

“April marks the start of the financial year in which we are due to formally leave the EU and we know that many businesses have not yet made any provision or plans for trading post-Brexit. This may be because there has been so little information about what sort of deal we’ll have, but firms shouldn’t just sit back and wait for Brexit to happen to them, they need to have contingency plans and they need to start pulling them together now.”

A British refuse and recycling company has become the first in the world to accept Bitcoin.

National company, which is based in York, England are now accepting payment in virtual currencies for its commercial waste contracts.

With Bitcoin now moving into the mainstream, it's logical that British companies should move into the 21st Century and process payments in whatever form that's offered, officials say.

"Individuals and companies are trading in Bitcoin and other virtual currencies all over the world," says Business Waste spokesperson Mark Hall, "so of course we're going to accept it from our customers."

It's not a publicity stunt, and it's not taking advantage of the current surge in Bitcoin value, says – it's a logical business decision.

"To us, it's just another way to pay for our services. It's just money," Hall says. We're also accepting Litecoin and Ehereum

What kind of customer pays in Bitcoin? deals with commercial waste, and collects from all sorts of companies and institutions. But it's not just tech companies who would pay in Bitcoin or virtual currencies such as Litecoin.

"You'll be amazed", he says. "Ordinary people are now both mining and trading virtual currencies, and they're keen to use them to purchase goods and services.

"And we're the first in this business sector in the world to accept them. So the answer is 'every kind of company'. Bitcoin is mainstream now."

Old-fashioned money still accepted

Hall is at pains to point out that will still trade in good, old-fashioned payment types for the huge majority of their customers.

"Bank transfers, bank and credit cards, direct debit it's all good," he says. "But in a fast-moving world, you've got to be flexible."

"This is just another way we can be flexible with our customers."