Colors: Blue Color

Britain’s beloved historic buildings are at risk, due to a restoration skills crisis that threatens the future of some of our best-known national treasures, warns the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Despite over a million people tuning in to Channel 4’s latest series Great British Buildings – Restoration of the Year, and a new YouGov survey commissioned by RICS finding that 92% of the British public in the Midlands believe historic buildings are symbolic of Britain’s heritage, young people have little awareness of the specialist professions and trades essential to their preservation, suggesting that as people retire, the current skills base could be all but wiped out.

According to the survey, 9 in 10 people (92%) agreed that buildings such as Lincoln Cathedral and Ragley Hall are symbols of the country’s heritage. This sentiment is strong across all age groups, including millennials, with 89% of 18-24 year-olds appreciating the importance of historic buildings.

The vast majority of the Midland's population (93%) also believe that that these iconic treasures should be preserved for future generations and place the responsibility for maintaining them firmly at the door of the government (43%), followed by industry organisations (16%) and the general public (14%).

However, despite the public’s love for these buildings, the majority don't understand the specialist skills needed to restore and preserve them. For example, 80% are not knowledgeable about what a historic building surveyor does, and 80% do not know what a roof thatcher’s job entails. Awareness of age-old building professions is fading away amongst the younger generation, with only 1 in 10 18-24 year-olds able to describe the job of a stonemason, and only 16% know what a glass blower does.

This lack of awareness comes at a time when the industry as a whole is facing a skills shortage in the built environment, with the latest figures from the RICS Construction Market Survey showing that the skills gap reported by professionals across the construction sector increased from 2% in 2012 to 43% in 2016.

To ensure that these crucial skills are not lost and cherished historic buildings don’t fall into disrepair, a stronger pipeline of talent is needed. It’s important that craft skills are developed in addition to the continual promotion of professional skills, as the two skillsets are intrinsically linked to create any successful construction project. RICS is calling on the government and industry bodies to continue to concentrate their efforts on inspiring young people to pursue a career in the sector and educate them on the importance of mastering and maintaining the skills needed to preserve our historic buildings.

British designer and presenter, Kevin McCloud said: “Historically listed buildings form part of the fabric of our rich cultural heritage and today’s findings from RICS highlight that so many Brits are genuinely passionate about protecting the physical legacy that these buildings represent. I’m very pleased to be hosting Channel 4’s Restoration of the Year programme, which shines a spotlight on the care and craftsmanship behind preserving these national treasures.”

Matthew Howell, RICS Managing Director for UK & Ireland said: “It’s fantastic to see that so many people care about our historic buildings, especially young people. However, without a pipeline of talent developing expertise in these specialist areas, these landmarks could be left in ruin. We need the next generation to understand the role of a historic building surveyor, and the craft of a stonemason or glassblower to preserve this heritage for the future.”

Mr Howell added: “The government and industry bodies must continue to work together and raise awareness of the wide-range of opportunities available in the industry and create more routes into the sector for young people, including investing in quality apprenticeships that lead to roles such as qualified building surveyors who specialise in conservation projects”.

Visiting coffee shops is a ritual that many Brits routinely adhere to, as new research reveals Britain's coffee shop culture is full of beans. According to Mintel research, the UK coffee shop market has enjoyed its biggest period of growth since 2008, when the market was valued at £2.2 billion. Over the last five years, the market rose by 37%, up from £2.4 billion in 2011 to reach an impressive £3.4 billion in 2016. What is more, between 2015 and 2016 sales increased a spectacular 10.4% – the biggest year-on-year boost witnessed in the last five years.

It seems the market is brewing up for further success, as over the next five years coffee shop sales are forecast to jump a further 29%, reaching a heart-stopping £4.3 billion.

Brits' insatiable appetite for coffee is highlighted by the fact that two thirds (65%) of all Brits have visited a coffee shop in the past three months*. Coffee shop usage peaks among consumers aged 16-24 (73%). However, in a space traditionally dominated by specialist coffee retailers, it is notable that as many as 44% of Brits buy their hot drinks from non-specialists.

Overall, just one fifth (19%) of the nation do not drink tea, coffee or other hot drinks out of the home.

Trish Caddy, Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Britain's appetite for coffee shops continues. Much of the growth we've seen in recent years is driven by habitual coffee drinkers and the continually increasing number of coffee retailers that are now ubiquitous on British high streets. A raft of non-specialist venues that feature barista-style coffee on their menus with takeaway functions are grabbing a slice of the coffee shop market. In the future, the top end of the market will continue to face intense competition from big pub chains, fast food chains and bakery shops that have now encroached on the coffee shop market, competing in terms of price, convenience and even geographical reach.”

Mintel research reveals an environmentally caring side to Britain's coffee drinkers. Almost nine in 10 (87%) coffee drinkers try to dispose of their packaging waste in recycling bins. Some six in 10 (58%) coffee drinkers would like coffee shops to offer a discount to customers using their own travel mugs. Furthermore, four in 10 (40%) coffee drinkers say they do not mind being charged extra for hot drinks served in 100% recyclable coffee cups, and 30% would prefer to pay for filtered water instead of buying bottled water.

Visitors are being given the opportunity to travel back to Victorian times with a living history day full of bangs, crashes and military action.

The Anglo Boer War Staffords historical interpretation group will be setting up camp in the grounds of the Manor House Museum, in Hall Green Road, West Bromwich on April 30 and  May 1 between 11am-3pm.

Visitors can enjoy late Victorian historic drama, military re-enactments, displays and lots of fascinating entertainment based around the Boer War.

The group will set up tents and historical displays and undertake military drills and battles.

Jane Hanney, museum services manager, said: “There will be some loud bangs and crashes and lots of fascinating facts around this historical battle.”

Staff will also be giving guided tours of the Manor House which dates back to the 13th century and visitors can find out about arms and armour hundreds of years before the Boer War period as well as what life was like in the house 600 years ago. The last tour is at 2pm.

Entrance to the event both days is free although there is a small charge for some activities.

People of all ages across the length and breadth of the UK will be holding bake sales to raise money for H4H to support wounded, injured and sick Service Personnel, Veterans and their loved ones.

The Bake for Heroes campaign runs officially between April 15 and April 30, but supporters can take part whenever it suits them.

Supporters of all ages and all around the UK have cooked up more than £850,000 for H4H since the Bake for Heroes fundraiser began in 2009.

Now, as H4H prepares to mark its 10th birthday in October, TV star Lorraine Kelly says this year is the perfect opportunity to rise to the occasion and make the 2017 event the biggest yet.

Lorraine said: “I’m so proud to be a Patron of Help for Heroes. Every time I sit down and talk to our brave men and women, they tell me how much it means to know the public is behind them and their families throughout their recovery.

“I’m determined to help make sure that this vital support is there whenever it is needed. So please join us, it’s very simple to sign up and bake a difference!

“You could just get some friends together for a cup of tea, have a laugh and have a chat. You really will be helping to rebuild lives and continue the amazing work that Help for Heroes does.”

The ingredients for success are simple – supporters simply sign up for a free fundraising pack through H4H to bake cupcakes, sponges, biscuits, flapjacks or whatever tasty treat they fancy, and sell them off to colleagues, family and friends.

Bake sales can be as big or small as you want – it could be a tea and cake event at work or school, a coffee and cake morning at the local community centre, or simply an invitation to friends to come round for a slice of cake and a catch-up in return for a donation.

Funds will support the work of Help for Heroes and their four Recovery Centres, which have been purpose-built and support around 4,000 people every year.

Throwing her full support behind Bake for Heroes is Sally Amoore, 62, who lives near Tenby in Wales and has raised around £37,000 for H4H by selling cakes over the past eight years.

Her son, Captain James Amoore, now 32, was seriously injured in Helmand province in Afghanistan after stepping on a Taliban mine in 2009.

James, a platoon commander with 2nd Battalion The Rifles spent four months in hospital, undergoing 15 operations.

With the prospect of more treatment ahead of him, Sally has pledged to do all she can to raise money for H4H.

Sally said: “James should have been a triple amputee, but he somehow managed to keep all of his limbs.

“He is among 66,000 ex-Service Personnel who will need support to deal with life-changing injuries and illnesses.

“Without charities like Help for Heroes, these brave men and women who we ask so much of would never get the support they deserve and so badly need.

“These men and women look strong and capable, but behind the brave façade, they face daily challenges. For some, the first challenge of the day is to fit their prosthetic legs or arms, for others it may even be battling their anxiety of leaving the house.

“As the public and media focus is no longer on Afghanistan or Iraq, it is critical we maintain support for them for years and years to come.

“I love Bake for Heroes because it’s something that everyone can take part in and do their bit. It’s not a huge effort to bake a cake! It’s just a very friendly and fun way of raising a bit of money for a good cause.”

A University of Wolverhampton Professor received recognition recently for her contribution to raising the profile of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the region.

Professor Nazira Karodia, who was recently appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, was honoured at the Birmingham Thyagaraja Festival, which was organised by Shruthi UK, a South Asian arts organisation based in Solihull.

The Festival was held at The Dovehouse Theatre in Solihull and featured song and dance performances, speeches from dignitaries and awards presentations. Honours were also bestowed upon a selected few role models in recognition of International Women’s Day.

Nazira has a PhD in Chemistry from the University of St Andrews and studied for her post-doctoral fellowship at the Centre for Heterocyclic Chemistry at the University of Florida.

Prior to her current post, she was Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Bradford and she was Regional Director for the National Higher Education STEM Programme covering Yorkshire, Humber and the North East.  She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

She said: “I am honoured that Shruthi UK considered me worthy of a Women-in-Science award.

“There is always a link between the arts and science and there are efforts nationally and internationally to bring the arts into STEM to make ‘STEAM’. There is science in everything - the biology of movement in dance, the sound and physics in music - so it stands to reason that we can combine it all to make even more engaging experiences for the community.”

Dr Chithra Ramakrishnan, Artistic Director at Shruthi UK, said: “Every year, Shruthi UK honours women who have contributed and made a huge impact to the community through their skills, passion and commitment in the field of Life Sciences, Arts, Community, Politics and Education. 

“Professor Karodia is making an immense contribution in the field of Life Sciences and Education, having recently been appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton, and we were delighted to present her with an award recognising her achievements to date.”

VIPs at the event included West Midlands Mayoral Candidate, Andy Street, new Indian Consul General Dr Aman Puri, the Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Mike Robinson and Lady Mayoress Mrs Jenny Robinson.

Shruthi UK aims to inspire and motivate people from all ages and backgrounds but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, it has in the past organised workshops for autistic children and young adults, supported by Autism West Midlands and is currently working with people with dementia in an attempt to help improve their cognitive skills and general well-being through holistic healing through Indian dance. Shruthi UK also works closely with Special Needs schools across the region and beyond.

Two of the UK’s top young technical officials have secured appointments at this year’s World Para Athletics Championships and IAAF World Championships London 2017 taking place in the London Stadium at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this summer.   

Aged just 19, India Hollingworth will be one of the youngest in the team. She is set to be a starter’s assistant on the track during the IAAF World Championships London 2017 and, prior to this, a call-room assistant at the World Para Athletics Championships. She will be joined by Heather Nelson, who will be one of the chief judges in the field events at both championships. 

Hollingworth, a student at Leeds Beckett University where she is studying sports development, is delighted at the prospect of officiating at London 2017.

She said: “I am looking forward to being part of it. I am excited and nervous at the same time! I have been gradually progressing through the levels by gaining experience and taking the tests. These involve a lot of scenarios to show you can apply what you have learnt to the roles. For example, I was asked to show where I would stand for the 100m start.” 

As a starter’s assistant she will be responsible for checking the athletes are in the correct order and have their fingers or toes behind the start line and ensuring appropriate conduct on the start line, including checking that the athletes are appropriately dressed.  

She said: “My dream event would be the men’s 100m final but I would also love to do the 5000 or 10,000m. Just being there will be amazing.”

During the World Para Athletics Championships, Hollingworth will be in the call room ensuring the athletes are ready at the correct time and wearing the right clothing. She will also be responsible for making sure they do not take anything onto the field of play that is not allowed, such as mobile telephones, and will carry out branding and sponsorship checks.

Although only 35, Heather Nelson already has 19 years’ experience as a technical official having qualified at the age of just 16, but these events will be her first as a chief judge. 

Nelson, an engineer who is currently studying for a DPhil at Oxford University, was introduced to athletics at a young age as both of her parents are technical officials. Both parents still officiate, and both Heather and her mother, Margaret, were technical officials at London 2012.

She commented: “I enjoy the events and officiating. It is like having a second family and we make many friends – there is a real community feeling. The people and the performances make it really special. I have been lucky to have officiated at many memorable events. I was judging at the take-off board for Jessica Ennis-Hill’s long jump during London 2012.”

Amanda Lamb, the television property guru, and Rick Edwards, the broadcaster and writer, will host a national competition offering one lucky winner the chance to live rent free for a year in the country’s most expensive neighbourhood.

The Selling houses with Amanda Lamb presenter will be putting members of the public who want to live in the Central London penthouse apartment through their paces on April 27th to celebrate the opening of Studio B, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks’ new flagship London store.

People wanting to take part just have to turn up on the day, when they will face a general knowledge round and complete cooking, gardening and DIY challenges in the store to make sure they have the skills to look after their own home.

Studio B, an innovation lab designed to solve the banking issues of tomorrow, is also pledging to match fund money the winner manages to save during the year to put towards a deposit on their own home (up to £2,000 per month).

Television presenter Rick Edwards will be entertaining the public when he comperes the competition in the striking Kensington High Street store.

But it’s not all about laughs. Studio B is staging the competition to draw attention to one of the greatest financial challenges facing younger generations. A YouGov survey for Studio B found that:

·  Almost a quarter (23%) of renters aged 18-40 never expect to be able to afford a deposit on a home

·  Almost one in three Londoners (30%) aged 18-40 do not save any money in an average month

·  The majority (59%) cite high rent as the single biggest barrier to saving more 

Studio B’s mission is to find innovative solutions to the big financial challenges people face. The competition to celebrate its launch will give one lucky winner the chance to live rent free for a year in the stunning penthouse apartment just five minutes’ walk from the store.

At its heart is an innovation lab, where people from all walks of life will be invited to work with industry partners to create ground-breaking solutions to their money matters. The products and solutions they produce in areas such as voice and facial recognition technology will be tested in-store on bank customers.

Helen Page, Group Innovation & Marketing Director, said: “Our research lays bare the huge challenge people starting out on their own face and this competition will give a lucky winner a huge helping hand, putting them on track to own their own home.

“This is the whole ethos of Studio B. It’s an open space where we can engage with the next generation of customers to design the next generation of banking.”

Amanda Lamb said: “This is going to be a really special event. I’d love the chance to live in the Studio B flat and am delighted to play my part in making this dream come true for someone during the competition.”

Rick Edwards said: "Housing and home ownership pose one of the big social challenges of our time. It’s great that Studio B is actively working to help Generation Rent overcome the hurdles they're facing."

LUMS in collaboration with Autism Spectrum Disorders Welfare Trust (ASDWT) organised the World Autism Awareness Day at LUMS. The purpose was to raise awareness about Autism and to show how assistive technologies can be used to improve the quality of the lives of autistic children in Pakistan.

The Human Computer Interaction Lab (Chisel) at LUMS, directed by faculty member, Dr. Suleman Shahid along with his students, is working on a project, AGHAZ, which aims at developing a number of digital aids to support autistic children at various stages of their development. The work is done in collaboration with ASDWT and the Rising Sun Institute, Lahore.

Autistic kids are isolated from society due to the communication gap that exists because of them being either nonverbal or having articulation issues. In Pakistan, it is absolutely essential for these children to be able to communicate in Urdu in order to bridge this gap. AGHAZ is the application that aims to cater to this need. It can be used by teachers/therapists and parents to work with these special children and help them learn Urdu.

AHSAS, The Emotional Express, another mobile application developed by LUMS students, aims to provide an interactive interface that helps autistic children understand their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It also focuses on improving their social interaction; understanding emotions in a social context and being able to react to everyday situations effectively.

The third app, also developed by LUMS students, BOL is an AAC application designed with a focus to develop a child’s language and improve his intent to communicate. It uses picture symbols and voice synthesis in Urdu as well as English to help users create messages. Bol seamlessly integrates a powerful keyboard to help children transition from images to text.

Since 2007, the London Marathon has held the Guinness World Record for the largest single annual fundraising event. This record has been broken every year by this annual event, and understanding Gift Aid rules properly can mean even more money for charity. ICAEW explains how to work out if you could claim tax relief on charitable giving in your tax return ahead of the London Marathon on 23 April. 

Caroline Miskin, ICAEW Technical Tax Manager explains: “Gift Aid enables charities to reclaim an amount equivalent to the basic rate of tax on all donations. If the donor is a higher or additional rate tax payer, paying 40% or 45% income tax on part of their income, they can claim a reduction in their tax bill on the difference between the two rates on Gift Aid donations made.”

Stay one stride ahead, are you eligible to claim Gift Aid?

  • For a charity to claim Gift Aid on your donation you must have paid enough UK income or Capital Gains Tax in the tax year
  • The tax you pay must be equivalent to the amount of Gift Aid the charity will reclaim on your donation during that tax year
  • Your donations must be no more than four times what you have paid in income tax in the current financial year
  • You must tell the charities you support if you stop paying enough tax

Don’t sprint to the end – you may be eligible to claim further relief

·         If you are a higher or additional rate tax payer (40% or 45%) you can claim back the difference between the tax you’ve paid on the donation and what the charity got back in Gift Aid when you fill in your self assessment tax return or by asking HMRC to change your code

·         For example, if you sponsor a friend £100 to run in the London Marathon, the charity they are running for can claim Gift Aid, making your donation £125. You pay 40% tax so you can personally claim back £25 because the higher rate is 40% and the charity has already claimed 20% of that.

Caroline adds: “Tread carefully, there are some important things to remember. If the charity does not reclaim the tax this money stays with HM Treasury. And if you do not claim the money back on your self assessment return or by asking for a change to your tax code, your refund also stays with the government. Be careful not to sign a gift aid form if you will not be paying enough tax as HMRC may ask you to pay the tax reclaimed by the charity.”

Ashley Jensen has donned her wellies in a bid to encourage nurseries, early years groups, families and children up and down the country to take part in Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddle Walk for Save the Children.

The actress, best known for her roles in the television series Ugly Betty, Extras and Catastrophe, has taken part in her own Muddy Puddle Walk to encourage the nation to sign up and jump in muddy puddles, like Peppa Pig, for a worthy cause.

The brand-new fundraiser has been launched by Save the Children in partnership with Entertainment One’s (eOne) Peppa Pig. By taking part in a Muddy Puddle Walk between 8 and 14 May 2017, participants are encouraged to explore the world around them, splash in muddy puddles and raise money to help Save the Children give every last child the chance to learn, play and grow up healthy and happy.

Ashley Jensen, Save the Children Ambassador, says: “I’m encouraging everyone to get outside, come rain or shine, and help raise much needed funds for Save the Children. It’s so easy to take part and it’s the perfect excuse to explore the outdoors with your little ones! By jumping in muddy puddles like Peppa Pig and raising money for Save the Children you can help the world’s most vulnerable children have a brighter future. I’ve seen the charity’s work first hand so know what a difference it makes. I’m proud to do my bit to help raise awareness and funds.”

Ashley has supported Save the Children’s vital work since 2011 and has visited the charity’s projects in India, Tanzania and Greece.

Sign up your nursery or family now at to get your free Muddy Puddle Fundraising Pack, full of fundraising ideas and tips for great walks and activities indoors and out – including free Peppa stickers and Save the Children balloons too.

There are lots of easy ways to raise money on your Muddy Puddle Walk for Save the Children. The free fundraising pack is full of great activities and fundraising ideas, so you can choose which option will work best for you and your children. Your little ones can get sponsored to walk or splash in puddles at the park, or they can simply donate to join your muddy puddle walk. You can even top up your total by baking and selling Muddy Puddle cupcakes!

The Black Country Chamber of Commerce Awards 2017 have been officially launched, celebrating the best in business from across the region.

The Black Country Chamber celebrated the fantastic businesses in the region last year with a sell out Awards Dinner, and this year is set to be even bigger with more Awards on offer. In addition, the Chamber is working closely with the British Chambers of Commerce so that businesses who apply for certain awards will also be entered into the regional and national Awards. These Awards are an ideal platform upon which to showcase your company and celebrate your success, as we recognise those who contribute towards the local economy.

This year we have increased the number of Awards, allowing us to celebrate more businesses and shout about the great work that is happening across the Black Country. The winners will be announced at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner, which will take place on 17th November 2017 at Wolverhampton Racecourse.

Please note, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce Awards 2017 are now open for entry and the deadline to apply is 3pm on Friday 30th June 2017.

Young architects, city planners and engineers are now showcasing their dynamic artwork as part of a schools’ art showcase at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Students from the innovative West Midlands Construction University Technical College (WMCUTC), a new school specialising in construction and the Application of IT in the Built Environment, are exhibiting etchings, pen and ink drawings and photography at the Lichfield Street gallery until Tuesday, May 23.

Among images on show are two copies of pen and ink drawings of the college’s Springfield Brewery campus created by Year 10 students. The detailed drawings were presented to the HRH Duke of Gloucester and Lord Baker at the college’s recent official opening.

Other pieces include highly detailed and photorealistic hand drawn pencil portraits and large photography pieces on display. The work of Year 10 photography students records the sense of place with shots of the listed Springfield Brewery campus.

The exhibition is part of the gallery’s Young Artists programme, which celebrates the work of students from various schools across the city.

Councillor John Reynolds, City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “The standard of work in this showcase is extremely high and well worth celebrating. Well done to all the students taking part and good luck in their future endeavours.”

The exhibition is in the Sense and Sculpture gallery on the first floor of the gallery.

WMCUTC is a new school, which specialises in construction and the application of IT in the Built Environment providing high quality technical education for 14 to 19 year olds.

Students can follow three pathways in the school -  design, build or innovate.

Design students look to careers such as architecture, interior design, town planning and landscape design, although all students, whether aiming to become civil engineers or software developers, study a core curriculum including a design element.

Sutton Coldfield MP, Andrew Mitchell and Strictly Come Dancing’s, AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt attended the launch of Stage Studios, the new performing arts facility at Sutton Coldfield College – giving the building and its students top marks. 

Sutton Coldfield MP, Andrew Mitchell officially opened the Stage Studios by unveiling a commemorative plaque. 

He said: “Sutton Coldfield has a thriving arts community where individuals of all ages and from all backgrounds can be involved in or be entertained by a range of shows and productions.  The Stage Studios will be a vital part of this local scene.”

Dance duo, AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt who first found fame on Britain’s Got Talent congratulated dance, musical theatre and acting students for the routines, songs and monologues they performed at the launch event.  These included a vocal performance from Hamilton – The Musical, a Shakespeare monologue and a dance routine to the Austin Powers movie theme song.

AJ and Chloe also took part in a Q&A session with students where they shared their experiences of competing in dance events and becoming national and European Latin dance champions.

AJ said: “The studios are fantastic.  It’s great that the college offers a whole performing arts package where learners can hone their creative skills.  Everyone has to start somewhere, so the more knowledge these students gain, the more power they have to achieve their goals.

“And I love how these students are involved in other things on top of their college courses.  Belonging to dance groups, taking part in events and appearing in productions at different theatres will help them go as far as possible in their careers.”

Stage Studios is a £168,000 custom-built facility containing four brand new studios.  150 students developing skills in dance and choreography, drama, acting and theatre studies will benefit from state-of-the-art equipment and the best teaching resources available.  The college offers performing arts courses from GCSE-equivalent to university level.

Sutton Coldfield College Principal, Andrew Cleaves said: “Stage Studios give our students the creative freedom and motivation to develop their skills and perform at their very best.  They have a more flexible area in which to rehearse and to work with other companies and community organisations so they can build on their experiences while working with some of the best people in the industry.”

Guests from local schools, dance schools, theatres and the wider performing arts industry also attended the Stage Studios launch, along with some of the college’s former students.

According to the latest Lloyds Bank regional PMI for March, there has been some easing of performance in Britain, coupled with an acceleration of price pressures. In particular, the latest regional PMI data shows a softening but still robust performance in the West Midlands, which is down from 57.0 in February to 56.1. This reflects the softening seen in the national manufacturing and construction PMIs in March, and in official data with short-term indicators showing slowing but still positive output performance.

Nevertheless, UK manufacturing, construction, and services PMIs all reported an increase in confidence for the next twelve months, with confidence in the manufacturing sector reaching a ten-month high. A lowering of Brexit uncertainty among clients was reported, providing a boost to output demand. There was also increased demand and interest from foreign markets, most probably due to the lower value of Sterling, thereby making UK businesses more internationally price competitive.

The UK PMIs saw increases in new orders in March, with further demand from foreign markets for manufacturers and services providers, and lower anxiety surrounding Brexit was a contributing factor for construction. As a region, the West Midlands appears to be outperforming the UK in terms of new orders, which has enabled growth. Furthermore, as business outstanding increases, there could be an increase in employment as companies raise their capacity to deal with new business. This was reflected in March’s PMIs, with the West Midlands showing employment growth above the UK overall.

The Sterling effective exchange rate has fallen 10.4% since the Brexit referendum and has contributed to tightening inflationary pressures, with the CPI reaching 2.3% in February, the strongest since September 2013. According to official data, producer input prices have risen 19.1% over the same period, and has fed through into producer output prices, which have increased 10.7%. Transport, especially fuel prices were the principal contributory factors. Similar price pressures were evident in the recent PMIs, and remained acute in March. Manufacturing, construction, and services PMIs all reported increases in input prices in March. These pressures were evident in the regional PMIs, with input and output costs rising faster in the Midlands than the UK overall, and many businesses reporting that squeezed profit margins were causing them to pass on costs to clients.

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “The latest West Midlands PMI highlights the need for an effective regionally-focussed Industrial Strategy. The strength of new orders and rising outstanding business demonstrates the need for infrastructure and skills investment in the region. The current capacity constraints appear to be having an impact on future growth prospects and potential gains in productivity performance."

Consumers in Milton Keynes are the big spenders on second-hand cars, shelling out two-thirds more than the UK average, according to research carried out by a leading car finance provider. looked at the average loan taken out over the past 12 months to purchase a used car in major towns and cities across the UK, and found that car owners in Milton Keynes borrowed an average of £18,225, compared to the UK average of £10,962.

The research revealed that the average car loan taken out, varied by as much as 118% depending on where you live in the country. At the lower end, used car purchasers in Ipswich and Norwich borrowed an average of just £8,360 and £8,466 respectively.

The Midlands featured heavily in the list of the UK’s biggest borrowers. Four out of five towns and cities, where consumers borrowed the most to buy a used car, were in that region of the country. The average loan size in Coventry was £13,186 over the past year, the second highest after Milton Keynes.