Colors: Purple Color

The humble 1p coin could soon become a thing of the past as The Bank of England is considering its future.

The fate of the 1p lies with us and the way we use it as more than half in circulation are only used once.

The Bank's theory is that the rise of card payments makes the issue irrelevant - and far fewer items are now priced ending in 99p.

The value of the 1p coin has also been reduced by inflation so, in effect, the 1p coin is now worth less than the halfpenny when it was abolished in 1984.

Among many of those who support the continuing use of copper coins, the belief is that retailers would simply round up prices to the nearest 5p if copper coins were scrapped.

Many countries - including Canada, the home of Bank of England governor Mark Carney - have ditched their low denomination coins, as well as Australia, Brazil, and Sweden who are also doing so.

Studies from around the world have shown that removing low denomination coins would have little or no impact on prices.

The Bank of England economists said: "As inflation steadily erodes the purchasing power of low denomination coinage, the case for the removal of the 1p becomes stronger."

 

Businesses that want to learn about a range of basic export topics can now watch a series of video training masterclasses without leaving their desk.

 

Launched by West Midlands Chambers of Commerce and funded by the ERDF SME International Growth Project, the online resource offers six masterclasses covering: export documentation and administration; export pricing; intellectual property; international sales and marketing; market research and selection; and routes to market.

 

Each of the videos lasts for about 30 minutes and will take SMEs (small-to-medium-sized enterprises) step by step through the processes of selling overseas. Each session is designed to offer valuable advice and tips to new and/or inexperienced exporters, by providing a structure for how to trade globally.

 

Patrick McCarron, Business Development Manager of West Midlands Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Last year, we helped more than 300 businesses in the West Midlands region to start exporting for the first time.

 

“Selling products or services internationally is a potentially profitable part of any business plan, but there are many factors to consider when planning to trade overseas. We know that companies are keen to expand their export markets but it can sometimes be difficult to spare someone for a half day to attend a workshop or seminar.

 

“These online tools will allow businesses to access the relevant masterclasses at a time that is suitable for them and help them tackle the key stages in the export process.

 

“Of course, these can be followed up with meetings with our experienced international trade advisers, who can provide specialist help, guide companies through the exporting process, set up meetings and liaise with embassies and advisers in the target markets.”

Efforts to attract private inward investment to the Midlands’ infrastructure sector could be given a significant boost through the adoption of new global construction standards, according to RICS

RICS states that adopting ICMS (International Construction Measurement Standards) would make the Midlands even more attractive to international investors – providing greater transparency, consistency and certainty for them. ICMS is a collaborative international standard developed by 46 global construction professional bodies.

For the last seven years, workloads in Midlands’ infrastructure have grown consistently and strongly, with the main activity taking place in the road, rail and energy sectors, according to RICS Construction & Infrastructure Market Survey, which gathers the sentiments of RICS Chartered Quantity Surveyors working in the region.

Chartered Quantity Surveyors –  experts in the financial management of construction – commit to working to the best practice through RICS standards. Quantity Surveyors are fundamental to ensuring best value for money for the taxpayer.

Looking ahead, workloads in the Midlands are expected to rise quicker than the rest of the UK. Employment in Midlands’ construction is also expected to grow, at a rate 0.8% by 2022*. Not only is this above national expectations, but means the region’s current and planned projects will create around 17,000 new jobs in the sector.

Therefore, growth fuels the need for more trusted, skilled and regulated professionals and accurate reporting of costs in construction and infrastructure projects. This is critical not only in terms of attracting investors, but also for assessing the economic viability of projects and maximising their impact.

Alan Muse, RICS Global BEG Standards Director, commented:

“At present, there is a lack of uniformity in how construction projects and costs are measured and reported around the world, which can provide risks for investors.

“Chartered quantity surveyors ensure the economic optimisation of construction projects through a process of prediction, control and challenge. As construction becomes more global, both in terms of funding and implementation, international learning through common international standards becomes more important and ensures better information for investment decisions.

“Widespread adoption of ICMS in the construction market here could provide the Midlands with a real competitive advantage and signal to potential investors that this is a market that they should be active in.

“ICMS provides global consistency in reporting; the kind of consistency that inward investors increasingly demand, and government projects need. Our message is very clear to those working in the Midlands’ built environment, widespread adoption of ICMS provides the opportunity for significant competitive advantage.”

Malcolm Horner, Emeritus Professor of Engineering Management, University of Dundee and Chair of the ICMS Civil Engineering Stream, commented:

“The benefits of sharing useful, robust and consistent data are widely recognised, both to provide benchmarks and improve the quality of estimating and cost prediction.

“Data sharing would be helpful to governments and other organisations who need to demonstrate value for money. It would allow the efficiencies of different organisations to be compared and inefficiencies to be identified and targeted. It would also allow clients and consultants, particularly smaller ones, to better determine what a project should cost, what it will cost and what it did cost.”

International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) is a high-level international standard that aims to provide greater global consistency in the classification, definition, measurement, analysis and presentation of construction costs at a project, regional, state or national/ international level. The standard has already been adopted by Arup, Arcadis and Turner & Townsend.

Business across the West Midlands are being urged to apply for a specialist funding stream that aims to help them export for the first time or expand their overseas markets.

The West Midlands SME International Growth Project (SME IGP), funded via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), has approved 220 grants since January 2017, providing match-funded grants worth more than £500,000.

SMEs (small-medium sized enterprises) have just eight months left to apply for a grant, with the deadline set for applications on 31 March 2019.

Walsall-based Earthbound, a manufacturer and distributor of high-quality pet bedding, blankets, dog coats, toys and accessories, received £3,000 in match-funding to enable it to attend the major Zoomark trade fair in Bologna, Italy.

“You need to do a lot of business to cover the costs of any show so having the ERDF funding was a real help for a company of our size,” said David Higgins, UK sales manager.

“There are a lot of big players in this industry so we’re having to work hard to get our products and our name noticed. We wouldn’t have done Zoomark if it wasn’t for the ERDF funding.”

The fair was a huge success for the company, which picked up £47,000 worth of business from a customer in Ireland, as well as a further £30,000 orders from retailers in another Spain, France and Italy.

“Exporting is without doubt making us stronger as a business,” said David. “It would be more difficult for us to grow and thrive if we weren’t proactively looking to the export market. I’d urge any company thinking about exporting to contact its local DIT office and see what help it could get.”

The project is delivered by West Midlands Chambers of Commerce (WMCC) and funded as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014 – 2020.

Allen Matty, managing director of WMCC, said success such as that experienced by Earthbound is being replicated across the region, thanks to their applications for match-funded grants of between £1,000 and £3,000.

Funding has also provided businesses with the chance to access sector expert events, such as Meet the Buyer, invitations to market visits to investigate potential business openings, and trade shows.

“We’ve seen some extremely positive results and business wins from local companies that have been able to take advantage of this grant scheme,” he said.

“With just eight months left of the ERDF funding scheme, we’d encourage any SME in the area that wants to export or grow overseas to consider applying for it. It’s not just a cash boost, it’s also about and accessing the specialist support they need and minimising the risks in overseas markets.”

SME IGP aims to support 550 businesses in the West Midlands with business advice, support, grants, and with job creation.

Battling businesses across the whole West Midlands are showing a resilience that belies economic and political uncertainty across the UK.

This is the conclusion of business leaders across the region coupled with a warning that one of the biggest threats to their success is that companies, especially manufacturers, cannot find suitable staff.

These are among the findings for a West Midlands Quarterly Economic Snapshot for the second quarter of 2018 carried out by Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), Black Country Chamber (BCC) and Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce (C&WCC).

The report, led by GBCC senior policy adviser Raj Kandola, revealed that 61 per cent of firms were expecting to increase their profits in the next 12 months.

However, the highest proportions of businesses expecting a fall in their profits were based in Greater Birmingham (26 per cent) while the great number of firms expecting an uplift were in the Black Country (59 per cent).

Paul Faulkner (pictured), chief executive of the GBCC, said: “It’s pleasing to see firms across the region display a level of optimism that belies the economic and political uncertainty which has been emblematic of recent times.

“Over two thirds of firms across the region expect their profits to increase in the next 12 months – with businesses in the Black Country particularly confident on future revenue projections. A similar number of companies across the West Midlands as a whole also expect their turnover to increase in the same period.”

“On Brexit, our advice for businesses across the West Midlands is to ignore the political distractions and prepare for what you can control. Our Brexit toolkit gives local firms practical and clear advice on how to put sensible steps in place to ensure they are ready for whatever the next 12 months brings.”

Full details can be found on the GBCC website: www.greaterbirminghamchambers.com

The report reveals a continuing trend of recruitment problems with 69 per cent of manufacturers unable to find suitable staff, a three per cent increase on the previous quarter.

Corin Crane, chief executive of the BCC, said: “With 53 per cent of West Midlands business reporting recruitment difficulties, an increase of three per cent, there is certainly cause for concern.

“The West Midlands is home to a world-class, vibrant manufacturing sector, so it is worrying that 69 per cent of manufacturers are reporting an inability to find suitable staff.

“We know that the average age of the manufacturing workforce in the region is too high and although sweeping changes to the apprenticeship system were targeted at increasing take up, the Government’s own figures point to a decrease in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the Levy.

“More changes to the technical education landscape are on the horizon with the introduction of the T-Level, but these are long-term solutions for business at a point when the solution is needed now.

“Brexit of course, means that changes to the UK’s immigration system are inevitable. It is imperative that the Government listens to industry on this crucial issue. Foreign-born workers including the EU27 are employed at all levels across a range of sectors in our region.

“Drastic changes to immigration policy without due business consultation risks exacerbating these recruitment difficulties further. Although nurses and doctors are now exempt from the Tier 2 Visa Cap, if businesses across sectors continue to report recruitment difficulties at such elevated levels, the policy may also need a drastic overhaul.”

Exports were also holding up in the region with only nine per cent of firms reporting a decrease in overseas sales, down from 11 per cent in Q1.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of C&WCC, said: “Export is one of the success stories of the West Midlands and it is good to see that they are holding up in spite-of the political and economic uncertainty around Brexit.

“Exports are worth £8.8 billion to our regional economy and evidence suggests a strong correlation between growing and sustainable businesses and those businesses that trade globally.

“It is no surprise that our global outlook is being dampened slightly by the uncertainty around Brexit negotiations. However Chambers of Commerce continue to offer hundreds of thriving and exporting businesses solid and practical advice on how to export for the first time or, indeed, increase their exports in existing or new markets.”

Business communication and negotiation styles will be among the topics being discussed at a specialist masterclass on exporting to the USA and Canada next month (September).

Organised and delivered by the ERDF SME International Growth Project, the half-day workshop on Thursday, September 20, is open to small-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based across the West Midlands region, which also includes the counties of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

Led by Allyson Stewart-Allen, founder of specialist marketing consultancy International Marketing Partners Ltd. and dual British and American citizen, the session will guide SMEs on the cultural Do’s and Don’ts of doing business for the first time in the US and Canada.

“It was George Bernard Shaw who is credited with the saying that the US and Great Britain are two countries divided by a common language, just as true today as it was in the early 1940’s,” she said.

“SMEs can come across many communication and cultural challenges when trying to export to the USA and some have found to their cost that mistakes can sometimes be irrecoverable.  While Canada is geographically connected to the USA, there are distinct cultural, communication and language differences.

“This masterclass will help businesses understand not only the different business cultures of these two bordering markets, it will give valuable tools and advice on how to avoid expensive pitfalls.”

The USA is the UK’s biggest trading partner, exporting almost £100 billion worth of goods and services in 2016, while the UK exported £8.2 billion of goods and services to Canada in the same year, making it the UK’s eighth biggest export market outside the EU.

The half-day training will also cover: business and economic environments; ease of doing business;

market entry; e-commerce in both markets; language differences.

Businesses across Birmingham and Solihull are being urged to join a unique programme that supports young people into employment, before applications close on September 10.

Talent Match Birmingham and Solihull is looking for employers to step forward and support some of the hardest to reach young people aged 18 to 24, currently not in education, employment or training. So far, the programme – which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund – has helped more than 771 long-term unemployed young people.

The programme works with each young person to provide bespoke wrap-around support based on their individual needs so they are ready for the workplace.

Businesses offering work experience, a work placement or paid work can be eligible to a wage subsidy, as well as in-work support for the business and the young person.

The Talent Match Birmingham and Solihull scheme is a five-year pre-employment programme, working with more than 821jobless young adults across Birmingham and Solihull to help them secure and sustain work.

Joseph Allen, programme coordinator at Talent Match Birmingham and Solihull, said: “We’ve been thrilled with the support of business leaders in Birmingham and Solihull. We’re now heading for the final push, so now is the time to get on board.

“We appreciate times are tough, but we know an investment in a young person, is an investment in your business and the future of Birmingham and Solihull. We need to appreciate the potential of our young people and how they can contribute to the growth, diversity and success of the region.

“Time is ticking and we want to get as many young people into employment as possible, so please do get in touch if you can support them.”

Handing your precious a child over to someone else to care for is one of the hardest things a parent can do.  After spending so much of your own time ensuring ‘little one’ is safe and well looked after, what should you then look for when investing in childcare?

Tracey Poulton, Founder of Natural Nurture, reveals the top line areas, and questions, that should be explored when making such a significant decision.

Recommendations

There is nothing more powerful than personal recommendations from those who have had first-hand experience of the setting you are interested in.  If you don’t know someone who has used that childcare provider, ask to see the references and whether you can follow any up by telephone.

Cost

The price of childcare varies greatly across the country.  Council run schemes are often the least expensive option, whereas ones hosted in independent school grounds tend to cost more money.  If a website doesn’t reveal their pricing structure openly, you can generally second-guess that they will be priced more towards the top end.

So what do you get for your money? Does paying more mean you get extra?  The answer is possibly no.

It depends to a great extent on the setting and the experiences they are able to offer the children in their care.  For establishments  that have little or no outdoor space, it is worth determining what they do to educate the children about nature and the world outdoors.

Facilities and play equipment are really important too.  Visit the nursery and establish how they teach through play and see the children doing so on a regular day, not just an open day which might not be truly representative.

Support

An area that is often overlooked is how the nursery will engage with the family to ease the transition into childcare, and work collaboratively with them in the future.  It is worth asking whether they work with, or employ, professional independent child specialists outside of their qualified care staff.

Recording activity

Many establishments offer online journals so parents can see what their children have been doing.  These tools are great for parents and staff alike as it means that there can be correspondence on activity out of hours. Also check if your child will be allocated a key worker.  It is good to have one person that is dedicated to a child as they will build bonds together, and as a parent, you will be able to have a contact with whom you can raise any issues.

Independent assessments

To provide childcare for children under the age of eight, for more than two hours a day, the setting must be registered with Ofsted.  Ofsted regulates and inspects childcare establishments and provide reports outlining its findings.

Outside of the Ofsted ratings there are several regional and national awards that recognise the best settings in the country.  Most nurseries will shout about these on their websites or social media platforms so it is worth looking for this too.

Remember, the most important thing about childcare is that both parent and child are happy. Growth and development will follow if this cornerstone is set firmly in place.

Efforts must be made to ensure that today’s first increase in interest rates for only the second time in a decade to 0.75 per cent does not result in an unintended barrier for business.

Greater Birmingham Chambers of commerce (GBCC) said the increase, from 0.5 per cent, will test how robust consumer confidence is.

Paul Faulkner, the GBCC’s chief executive, said: ““This rise had been widely expected, as demonstrated by the limited market reaction to today’s announcement. CPI inflation was above the Bank of England’s two per cent target in June (at 2.4 per cent), the labour market continues to tighten and the unexpected slowdown in economic growth seen in Q1 is now seen as having been heavily influenced by the ‘Beast from the East’.

“However, it is notable in that it is only the second rise in the almost a decade since the Bank slashed rates following the financial crisis and, while improved, questions remain over how robust consumer confidence and spending will be moving forwards.

“There is still plenty of uncertainty out there and many expect the Bank to be cautious and limited in their intentions for future rates rises. We must ensure that Bank of England and other stakeholder policy supports and enables business investment and does not act as an unintended barrier.

“Locally, we continue to see positive trends in business confidence with our Q2 Quarterly Business Report indicating a strong outlook for Greater Birmingham’s businesses.

“Brexit-related change and uncertainty remains a key area of concern for businesses. We are continuing to encourage businesses to take steps to understand and prepare for Brexit-related risks as early as possible. The GBCC’s Brexit Toolkit is a comprehensive free resource that can help.”

“We will also shortly be launching the GBCC’s Invest to Grow campaign which aims to help businesses boost productivity through investment in innovation, R&D, tech and machinery.”

Anjum Khan, director of the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce (ABCC), led a host of accolades for the Birmingham business community when she won national recognition in the English Asian Business Awards last night.

And Wow Zone, run by ABCC president Qasim Majid, won the Digital Business of the Year title along with several other Birmingham business people.

They included Paul Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, who won the Corporate Leader of the Year title, and Awan Marketing chief executive Nasir Awan picked up International Business of the Year.

Anjum (pictured) was named Woman of the Year at a ceremony at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel.

The awards were created to honour the determination, hard work and personal achievements of English Asian businessmen and businesswomen at the forefront of their industries.

Each year, the competition has become more intense as the event itself has grown into a highly respected occasion, where the best and brightest are honoured.

Paul Faulkner, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), of which the ABCC is part, said: “The two awards are a huge accolade for the whole of the ABCC and the Asian community in Birmingham.

“Anjum has been instrumental in making the ABCC the most meaningful Asian business organisation in the country and fully deserves this honour.

“The work of the ABCC is vital in a city as diverse as Birmingham and it brings together a myriad of cultures working together for the whole community.

“Congratulations also to Qasim, whose leading international digital marketing agency is based in Birmingham.”

Wow Zone undertakes a wide range of services from digital marketing, online branding, social media, and website design and Qasim and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to put them at the top of the tree.

Mr Faulkner added: “Paul and Nasir are highly deserved of their awards. Paul has led the NEC with great aplomb for several years and Nasir combines a busy business life with widespread charity work.”

Nasir started in the retail business in 1978, joining his late father.  In 1980 he set up a consumer electronics wholesale operation, becoming one of UK’s major distributors.

Awan Marketing is now one of the largest wholesalers in the UK.

The company is run by the third generation of the family operating from a 45,000 sq ft distribution centre in Hockley.  It carries over 30,000 lines, servicing a customer base of over 14,000 throughout the UK and exporting to Europe, Africa and Asia.

Nasir is a board member of Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce group, and his appointments include Chair of Trustees Inspire Education Academy at Yew Tree School, Aston.  He is also a Trustee of Euro Charity Trust; Birmingham Ethnic Education Services; and Sutton Coldfield Muslim Association.  He is also a Director of the National Asian Business Association.

He was appointed deputy lieutenant in the West Midlands in 2017 and was awarded the MBE in 2016 for services to business and international trade.

The Asian Business Chamber will celebrate diversity and inclusion at its annual dinner and awards in November.

The event - sponsored by Douglas Wright Restaurants (T/A McDonald's) and HSBC takes place at the ICC in Birmingham on Saturday 17 November.

Water companies should take decisive action to boost unimpressive levels of customer satisfaction with fairness and value for money, according to a report by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).

The water watchdog’s latest annual Water Matters survey shows that while 9 out of 10 customers are satisfied with their water and sewerage services, only 6 in 10 agree that their charges are fair - a figure that has remained static for seven years.

Perceptions of fairness are strongly influenced by customer experience, according to Water Matters. Those customers who think charges are unfair are more likely to have made contact with their water company in the past 12 months, and are also less likely to recommend their water company or believe the company cares. Negative perceptions of fairness can also have an underlying effect on satisfaction in other areas such as value for money, so by addressing this, water companies can make positive progress towards improving wider customer perceptions.

By failing to address these long-term trends, water companies are risking increasing levels of customer discontent, says Mike Keil, CCWater’s Head of Policy and Research: “Customers’ perceptions of fairness and value for money have remained disappointingly static for seven years, and it’s no surprise that the water sector is now coming under increased scrutiny. Just this year, service interruptions caused by March’s ‘Beast from the East’ and the current spell of dry weather have led to frustration among customers. Unless water companies take action now, it’s unlikely that we will see a reversal of this trend anytime soon.”

Keeping customers informed year-round – and not just when problems occur – is a key way in which water companies can develop positive relationships with customers and improve their perceptions. Providing clear and accessible information about the issues customers care about – such as how their bills are funding resilient supply networks and reducing leakage – can help to increase customers’ trust in their supplier, and while improvement is needed across the industry, some water companies have proven that it can be done.

Over the past seven years, customers’ views on the fairness of charges have improved for three companies: Welsh Water, South West Water and Wessex Water. However, while these improvements show that customer perceptions of fairness can be changed for the better, the failure of the industry as a whole to address the long-term issue also shows that more work needs to be done.

The Consumer Council for Water is urging water companies to be more than ‘silent providers’, challenging mediocre performance and making every contact count positively with their customers.

Affordability is also a key factor influencing customers’ perceptions of fairness. Mike Keil adds: “While all companies now offer social tariffs to customers in financial difficulty, we think that there is an opportunity for companies to do a lot more in this area, for example by expanding these schemes and contributing more towards them.

“What’s clear is that every contact made is an opportunity for water companies to increase trust and change customer attitudes by providing a positive experience.”

A business hub for entrepreneurs, creative makers and small enterprises had its official launch last night in Wood Green.

Wood Green Works combines flexible and affordable workspaces, co-working, training rooms and creative spaces ideal for local entrepreneurs and start-up companies, as well as access to finance, business advice and masterclasses from Nwes – the country’s largest enterprise agency.

Last night Haringey Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Regeneration, Cllr Charles Adje, launched the hub, with Debbie Jackson, Assistant Director of Regeneration at the Greater London Authority. The event was attended by local businesses and community stakeholders.

Cllr Adje said:

There’s a wealth of talent here in Haringey, and Wood Green Works is an innovative way of offering entrepreneurs and small businesses valuable space and support. We are committed to driving employment up and providing people with opportunities that can help them thrive in our borough. I’m thrilled to be able to officially open Wood Green Works and send out a clear signal that Haringey is a place where individuals, start-ups and small enterprises can really develop and grow.

Earlier in the day there was an open day, with a ‘how to start your own business’ masterclass, Lego serious play drop in session (using Lego to explore the opportunities and challenges of starting and running a business in Wood Green), networking opportunities and presentations.

Wood Green Works is based on two floors of unused council offices at 40 Cumberland Road, with local resident Vivian Obiji as Centre Manager. Vivian worked with the council’s Haringey Employment and Skills Team, which helps residents develop the skills and confidence necessary to find the right job for them.

Funded by Haringey Council and the Mayor of London through the London Regeneration Fund, Wood Green Works is the latest meanwhile project in the area. It follows the successful launches of The Green Rooms arts hotel and creative hub Blue House Yard.

London’s Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said:

We’re proud to support Wood Green Works and it’s great to see it officially open for business. This project is an innovative use of a temporary site, which has transformed an existing building to provide much-needed affordable space for start-ups and small enterprises.”

Winchester showcased its wonderful range of independent shops, businesses and eateries from across the city at a special Independents Market.

The market lined the city's cobbled High Street in a celebration of the city's local independent business community.

Winchester has a unique shopping culture with 50% of its retail businesses being independently owned and managed. This helps to put Winchester on the map as a shopping and leisure destination for people throughout Hampshire and even further afield.

The Winchester BID (Business Improvement District) fully supports the city's independents and aims to create a thriving, clean and safe environment for residents, visitors and all the businesses which operate in the city.

Paul Spencer, Projects and Operations Manager for Winchester BID, said: "It was great to see so many people out and about in Winchester for the Independents Market. There are so many hidden gems in our city centre so it was the perfect opportunity to showcase them on the High Street and show what Winchester has to offer to residents and visitors alike. We hope that people will continue to love the local".

The Independents Market is part of a calendar of events which will be taking place in Winchester throughout July and August, including a children's 'Independent Street' and an 'Indie Trail' for people of all ages.

Chris Turner, Business Development Director for Winchester BID, said: "Here at Winchester BID, we exist to support our local businesses. Part of that in Winchester is about celebrating our fantastic array of independent shops and eateries. To see so many of them meeting and greeting new and old customers alike at the Independents Market was simply brilliant. It was a great way to demonstrate what makes Winchester's business community innovative and unique."

An accountancy trainee from Birmingham is celebrating after completing the qualifying expedition for her Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Gold Award.

Susanna Qureshi, an audit trainee at RSM in Birmingham, completed the gruelling 63km trek across the Lake District as part of a five-strong team.

The DofE Gold Award is the highest level of three progressive youth achievement awards that under-25s can take on. The expedition is the final part of the 18-month DofE business programme designed to help young employees develop personal skills, behaviours and confidence while supporting their career development.

RSM has been offering its trainees the opportunity to take on the DofE Gold Award since 2016 and its popularity has grown every year. This year, 26 trainees from the audit, tax and consulting firm have signed up to take part.

​Susanna said: 'The four days of the trip were really tough, particularly as we had some very challenging weather to contend with, but it was a great experience and a huge relief to cross the finish line.'

Mark Taylor, RSM's managing partner for RSM in Birmingham said:' RSM is proud to support the Duke of Edinburgh's Award which has a hugely positive impact on those young people that take part.

'Susanna deserves great credit for completing this expedition which requires teamwork, technical capability and resilience – all qualities that we look for in our staff.'

The full team from RSM who completed the expedition were Susanna Qureshi, Alex Narang, Megan Gibson, Jennifer Martin and Jamie Whiteford.

On completion of the programme, all participants will be invited to a ceremony at St James' Palace in London to receive their award from a member of the royal household.

TV presenter and beloved Brummie, Alison Hammond today made an appearance at the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham, to meet shoppers and show her support for local businesses in the area.

In a live Q&A, Alison discussed the many benefits of shopping local and talked about what residents can do to help support local trade, in addition to championing her own favourite independent businesses in the area.

The appearance was part of a pop-up event by Yell.com, which is running at the Bullring until this evening and marks the sixth stop on a nation-wide tour to encourage the British public to discover and support the great local businesses in their area.

A television presenter and showbiz reporter, Alison Hammond is one of Birmingham’s many famous exports. Having risen to fame in the third series of Big Brother back in 2002, Alison is now one of daytime TV’s most recognisable faces, also appearing on the likes of Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity…Get me Out of Here!

Alison said: “One of the things I love the most about Birmingham is how you can discover something new around every corner. There’s such rich variety on offer from the businesses here, I love that we’re shining a spotlight on them with this event. I’m always excited to chat with my fellow Brummies, and loved speaking to them today. Hopefully I’ve helped them to find some of the hidden gems in the city, that they might be missing out on!”

The pop-up stand also features the ‘Just Yell’ booth, where shoppers are invited to take part in an exciting competition to see who can yell the loudest. With the chance to win an Amazon Echo worth £89.99. Shoppers can also get information on a prize draw for the chance to win a range of fun experiences designed to make you Yell, plus a grand prize of £10,000.

Yell.com also looked into the consumer behaviour of those who live in Birmingham. The findings revealed that residents of Birmingham are actually the most likely in the whole of the UK to search online for a window cleaner. Suggesting that Birmingham might have the cleanest windows in the whole of the UK, Brummies were found to be 3 times more likely than residents of any other area of the UK to search online for the service.

Companies wanting to explore export opportunities in Germany and Austria can learn how best to conduct business in these markets at a culture masterclass.

Germany is the strongest economy in Europe and one the UK’s main export and import markets, while neighbouring Austria is one of Europe’s wealthiest nations and has a stable economy based on industries including iron and steel, chemicals and transport equipment.

To help companies in the West Midlands region break into those markets, the ERDF SME International Growth Project has organised a half-day workshop on Tuesday, July 24, to enable businesses to learn how best to succeed business in the two countries.

The session will be delivered by specialist culture and communication adviser Gerti Willis.

She said: “Germans are demanding customers and like detailed product information, they are seldom impressed by clever slogans, so getting your export strategy right from the start is crucial.”

The masterclass aims to help businesses improve communications by advising on how to avoid potentially embarrassing miscommunications that could set back relationships, and giving an insight into similarities and differences of German and Austrian cultural attitudes and values.

It will also cover: business and economic environments; negotiation styles; market entry; and e-commerce.

The masterclass is open to any SME in the West Midlands region, which comprises the counties of West Midlands, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.