Colors: Purple Color

Black Country Chamber of Commerce members and local authority leaders were recently hosted by Andy Street at Wolverhampton University to discuss local business issues with Andrew Jones MP. Considering that time was of the essence during a busy visiting schedule for Minister Andrew Jones, the discussions were lively, passionate and positive, outlining the hunger of local authority and business leaders to resolve the issues facing the Black Country. The agenda focused on the following issues: skills, transport infrastructure, Brexit uncertainty, and digital infrastructure, as well as the reliability and cost of power.

With Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget announcement being prepared for 22nd November, this was a genuine opportunity for Black Country businesses to outline their key issues. Particularly, as Andrew Jones is Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, this discussion was a fantastic way for the Black Country to voice its concerns as well as outlining its achievements ahead of such a crucial fiscal announcement.

On the issue of transport infrastructure, talks centred around Dudley, and the improved connectivity offered by the Midlands Metro extension. Present at the roundtable were intu Merry Hill and the Black Country Living Museum, two of the many businesses who would benefit from the extension of the metro link. Whilst discussing skills gaps and shortages which hamper Black Country business, it was made clear to the Minister that firms were struggling to understand, and in turn adapt to the apprenticeship levy, as well as being confused about other policy changes across the technical education landscape.

Attendees also spoke about the impact of Brexit on the Black Country. Again, it was stressed by local manufacturers that clarity was key, and the longer businesses are kept in the dark over new trade agreements and access to EU labour, the less forward-planning can be undertaken. On a positive note, around digital infrastructure, Andy Street outlined to Andrew Jones MP that the Black Country is a nationwide leader on laying digital infrastructure, having once been ranked as the lowest performing region.

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “Ahead of such an important budget announcement it is great to see government commitment to Black Country businesses. It was no surprise to hear the long-standing issues continue to be priorities for businesses, including skills and poor transport infrastructure. Our local businesses are hopeful of big announcements surrounding the Midlands Metro extension and the devolution of skills budgets and the wider skills agenda.”

Andrew Lovett, Chief Executive of the Black Country Living Museum, added: “The strength of the Black Country is its ability to adapt, and the Black Country community aren’t the sort of people who look for handouts. However, we do require investment to fulfil our potential for the good of the region and the whole of the UK. Investment is a two-way transaction and we’ll all want to deliver on the faith that is put in us through the use of tax-payer’s money.”

Greater Birmingham business leaders say the Government must not lose sight of the need to rebalance the UK economy, following the Bank of England’s decision to raise interest rates to 0.5 per cent today.

The Monetary Policy Committee voted to raise the base rate for the first time since 2007. The committee also stated any further hikes will be “at a gradual pace and to a limited extent”.

Paul Faulkner, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said the news shouldn’t detract from the need to strengthen the foundations of the economy.

He said: “Today the Bank of England took the historic step to raise the base rate for the first time in almost a decade.

“A number of commentators have noted how the Federal Reserve took a similar approach at the tail end of last year which saw a strengthening in US economic output and hope the trend will be reflected in the UK –this remains to be seen given the stagnant wage growth the UK has suffered over recent years.

“Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that at 0.25%, the rise is incremental and largely symbolic in its application as the MPC looks to curb rising inflationary pressures.

“Also today’s news shouldn’t detract from the real issue – the need to shore up the foundations of the domestic economy.

“The upcoming Autumn Budget is the perfect stage for the Government to set out its plan on how it intends to move away from a reliance on consumer spending to fuel growth and in particular, reiterate the need to invest in infrastructure and upskilling the workforce. Not only will this help rebalance the national economy but also ensure our businesses have the platform required to thrive.

“Furthermore, local firms are increasingly concerned about the competiveness of the UK market and we will be discussing this topic and others at our latest Quarterly Business Report launch which takes place on November 7th at Birmingham City University.”

The launch of the Chamber’s Quarterly Business Report takes place at Birmingham City University’s Curzon Building on 7 November.

One of the UK’s top independent Personal Lines Insurance Brokers has moved its Head Office and main customer contact centre into the City of Wolverhampton – delivering investment and jobs.

Established in 1999 by two local entrepreneurs, Mark Woods and Richard Dornan, Premium Choice specialises in providing car and commercial vehicle insurance solutions for over 100,000 customers and are rapidly growing in the market, offering home and leisure Insurance.

They have relocated from Fort Dunlop in Birmingham to Pendeford Business Park – investing over £750,000 in the refurbishment of Pendeford House.

Around 200 people are now employed at its new Wobaston Road site near to Junction 2 of the M54, with more than 15 per cent of the staff newly recruited from the City of Wolverhampton, thanks to support from the council’s enterprise team.

Richard Dornan, Premium Choice Managing Director (Underwriting and Business Development), said: “It’s an exciting time for Premium Choice. The new offices have been completely refurbished offering us the platform to grow our business and further develop our teams. The acquisition of the new building is the result of the company’s rapid growth and continual success.”

Mark Woods, Premium Choice Managing Director (Operations), added: “We are very unique in what we do and invest heavily in training our colleagues. Pendeford Business Park is perfectly located for us to capitalise on the talent that exists within the City of Wolverhampton and surrounding areas, and further develop knowledge and skills within the Financial Services Sector.

“Our business employs around 200 people and we have a proven track record of growth over the past 17 years. We continually look for great people to assist us in our journey, we always look for people who have a passion for learning and development and want to help deliver a great customer experience.

“The support that we have received, and continue to receive from City of Wolverhampton Council has been invaluable and was a real influencing factor in our decision to relocate to Wolverhampton.”

City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for City Economy, Councillor John Reynolds, said: “This is great news for the city and shows how the area around Junction 2 has become one of our core economic hubs.

“Regeneration in the city is being driven by £3.7 billion of investment either on site or in the pipeline - making us an attractive location for businesses like Premium Choice.

“Most importantly, its relocation is providing vital job opportunities for our residents.”

Comfort Suites Paradise Island, a member of the Choice Hotels International, Inc., family of franchises, is among the vast majority of Caribbean hotels that were not seriously impacted by recent storms and are welcoming visitors to indulge in the region's world-renowned hospitality product.
The popular all-suite hotel reports that following the passage of Hurricane Irma through The Islands of The Bahamas in September, the property received no damages as Hurricane Irma did not directly affect New Providence and Paradise Island. Therefore, after the warnings were removed, "we quickly returned to normal operational mode, completing all post-hurricane cleanup efforts and resumed all normal hotel operation activities," reported Jermaine Wright, General Manager of Comfort Suites Paradise Island. Wright further noted that bookings were encouraging as the hotel prepares for an exciting winter season.
Expressing solidarity with affected destinations in the Caribbean, including parts of The Bahamas that were impacted by the storm, Wright lauded the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's "One Caribbean Family" initiative that allows hotels across the region to help those who have been adversely impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, while also highlighting that more than 70 percent of Caribbean destinations have not been affected and are ready to welcome visitors as usual.
He noted that The Bahamas understands the challenges and hurdles of rebounding from damaging storms, having experienced Hurricane Matthew last year.
Wright further noted that the family-owned property consistently receives high guest satisfaction ratings with visitors regularly reporting that the resort's unique brand of hospitality makes them "feel like family". The owners are intimately involved with the hotel product, supporting the dedicated team and ensuring that the product is constantly upgraded and maintained to industry standards. "This rubs off on our staff, who take an enormous amount of pride in the property and the way we treat guests," he stated.
"We have just completed refurbishment efforts totaling more than US$300,000 to update  our Crusoe's Restaurant outdoor space, pool bar and deck," he added, disclosing that total refurbishment expenditure to date exceeds $10 million for the entire property.
Comfort Suites Paradise Island continues to upgrade and expand its product, including its food and beverage experience, which features the Comfort Suites brand's signature full complimentary hot and hearty breakfast.
"We are a Comfort Suites hotel with a difference," said Wright, explaining that Crusoe's Restaurant offers an expanded lunch menu and elegant dining options. At Comfort Suites Paradise Island, all registered child guests eat lunch and dinner free when dining with a registered paying adult.
Guests of Comfort Suites Paradise Island are also able to use the swimming pools, inviting beaches, casino, Lazy River Ride and water slides at Atlantis Paradise Island, which is located adjacent to Comfort Suites. With approved signing privileges, Comfort Suites guests can also enjoy Atlantis' restaurants and lounges.

Business leaders in Greater Birmingham have called on the Chancellor to use the Autumn Budget as an opportunity to boost the competitiveness of the UK economy.

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the UK economy grew by 0.4 per cent in the third quarter.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at a similar rate over the three months to September as it did in the previous two quarters.

The services sector remains the largest contributor to GDP growth, increasing by 0.5 per cent, while manufacturing also grew after a weak Q2.

In the expenditure measure of GDP, there was relatively strong growth in government spending and investment.

However, there was a slowdown in growth in both household spending and business investment, to 0.1 per cent and 0.0 per cent respectively.

Raj Kandola (pictured), senior policy and patronage advisor at the Chamber, said: “Although GDP output remains subdued, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are still witnessing growth in both the service and manufacturing sector; a testament to the strong foundations which underpin the national economy.

“As employment across the country continues to reach record levels, this once again points to systemic issues with productivity output amongst our workforce and the upcoming Autumn Budget is the perfect platform for the Chancellor to set out a plan for enhancing the competitiveness of the domestic economy in light of uncertainty caused by Brexit negotiations.

“Many of the trends we saw at the national level were reflected in the findings of our latest economic survey – with manufacturers in particular enjoying a fruitful three months, no doubt helped by the lower value of the pound.

“We will be discussing this topic and others that are impacting local businesses at our Q3 Quarterly Business Report Launch event which takes place on 7 November at Birmingham City University.”

If you think you know how Millennials think, you can think again, as a session at WTM London 2017, the leading global event for the travel industry, will unveil some surprising BBC research about the generation.

The Millennial age group is usually defined as those born in the early 1980s to late 1990s and their buying habits are of great interest to anyone selling travel.

BBC World News carried out the new research, Reaching Affluent Millennials and this will be detailed during the session. The study sought to find what was distinctive about this generation and its relationships with brands, media and advertising. The results were surprising.

As Ros Atkins, presenter of Outside Source on BBC World News and BBC World Service, will explain, the research discovered that much of the assumptions we might make about how Millennials think, feel and behave actually only reflects Affluent Millennials first and foremost.

The study explored how these Affluent Millennials engage with brands, and what they expect for their loyalty. In doing so, it discovered how this is affected by, in particular, their unique relationship with money and the environment.

The session takes place in the Inspire theatre on Wednesday November 8 at 12.45 – 13.45. During it, a panel of experts will also unveil insights on Affluent Millennials and their relationship with brands within the travel industry.

The discussion will include the role brands have in the lives of this market, what external factors influence their travel decisions, and what Affluent Millennials look for when it comes to travel and travel-based marketing.

WTM London, Conference and Seminar Manager, Charlotte Alderslade, said: “WTM London is the event for the release of research and discover the latest trends in the travel and tourism industry.

“This year, WTM London will unveil exclusive research from Euromonitor International, Nielsen and ForwardKeys. I am delighted to be able to include BBC World News to the list. Travel companies the world over are looking to target Millennial customers and this session will help them do that.”

The value of properties in the UK has risen by five per cent in the last year, adding more than £10,000 to the price of an average home.

New figures from HM Land Registry show a typical property sold for £225,956 in August, up from £215,143 in the same month in 2016.

Increases over the last 12 months have been largest in the north-west, where house prices have risen by 6.5 per cent. This was followed by gains of 6.4 per cent recorded in the East Midlands, east of England and the south-west.

Kevin Shaw, national sales director at property specialist Leaders, says: “The strength and prosperous nature of the country’s property market has once again been shown in these new statistics.

“The fact every single region across the UK experienced an increase of at least 2.6 per cent in house prices over the last year shows the market’s resilience despite the uncertainty of Brexit and gives sellers and buyers great confidence to make their next move.

“A significant rise in house prices is good news not only for homeowners who now have more options open to them when it comes to either moving or releasing equity in their property, but also for landlords whose rental return is topped up by substantial capital growth that is realised when selling.

“However, rising house prices are not good news for everybody and can make getting on the ladder less affordable for some. Next month’s Budget is the ideal opportunity for the government to show it is on the side of prospective first-time buyers by reducing or even abolishing stamp duty for this group.”

The statistics show that while the average property is worth £225,956, first-time buyers actually pay an average of £190,792 while those who have previously owned a property typically spend £262,156.

Kevin adds: “Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the outlook for the property market remains extremely positive. With the exception of the prime central London sector, further rises in house prices are expected across the country.

“Demand for all types of homes remains high and supply in many areas is not great enough, so we anticipate a busy and booming market for some time to come.”

Following a reported 10% rise in mead sales in the past year, Lyme Bay Winery is predicting a craft beer-like movement hitting the UK over the coming months, as everyone from historical reenactors to cocktail connoisseurs embrace the revival of this honey-based tipple, which was one of the first alcoholic drinks to be created. Dubbed the fasted growing alcohol sector in the US, mead is steadily becoming the drink of choice for many in the UK and continues to be the Devon-based producer's bestselling range.

Rich, sweet, sophisticated and packed with polyfloral characteristics, Lyme Bay Winery's meads are made using a unique blend of Mexican, Chinese and English honey foraged from the most aromatic of indigenous flowers. Combining traditional and modern techniques, the honey blends, which are filtered naturally, are diluted with water and fermented in stainless steel vats.

Unlike many mead producers, Lyme Bay Winery sticks with the age-old method of deriving the fermentable sugars from the honey without grapes, while also using the most up-to-date winemaking techniques including the use of selected wine yeasts and cross flow filtration to create its unique and distinctive range of award-winning meads. Best served at room temperature, mead is the perfect accompaniment to cheese, spicy food and even ice cream.

Firms in the West Midlands experienced the slowest increase in business activity in over a year during September, although growth still remained above the UK average, according to the latest Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey.

The West Midlands business activity PMI registered at 55.2 in September, down from 58.6 in August. A reading above 50.0 shows an expansion in output, while a reading below 50.0 indicates contraction.

Despite losing momentum, the pace of the region’s output growth was above the UK average (54.1).

Businesses also experienced a steep rise in new orders, as new customers boosted order intakes. Firms took on more staff at a faster rate than what was seen at national level, to satisfy the growing demand.

Business confidence remained high, with firms introducing new products and expecting increased sales over the next 12 months. However, the level of optimism was slightly lower than in August.

Meanwhile, unfavorable exchange rates contributed to higher input costs for firms. The increased cost burdens were partly passed on to clients through higher prices charged for goods and services

The Lloyds Bank PMI is the leading economic health-check of UK regions. It’s based on responses from manufacturers and services businesses about the amount of goods and services produced during September compared with the previous month.

Mark Cadwallader, regional director for SME banking in the West Midlands at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said:

“West Midlands companies finished the third quarter with a solid expansion in business activity, however it was marked by its slowest growth in 13 months. Nevertheless, robust growth in activity and new orders helped to boost job creation, which were higher than the national level.”

“As we enter the final quarter of 2017, we start the countdown to the Christmas holidays. Businesses in the consumer goods and hospitality sectors will need to ensure they manage their working capital carefully, in order to take advantage of increased demand from events like Black Friday, Christmas and New Year.

“Last month our Working Capital Index report found that businesses in the West Midlands have £42bn tied up in excess working capital, which includes assets like stock and invoices. Cash that’s tied up in working capital can be released and invested in creating more stock or building capacity to meet higher demand over the festive season.”

Deputy Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Phil Page, officially opened a new vintage tea room – boosting the number of start-up businesses in the city centre.

K Teas Cakes is now serving up home-baked cakes, afternoon and cream teas, and coffees, at Unit 4, St Georges Parade.

It is a venture being driven by 41-year-old owner, Caty Jones, who has lived in the City of Wolverhampton for the last 27 years.

She adds to the number of female entrepreneurs in the city, which was highlighted as an ambition at Business Week’s Inspiring Women into Business event.

And Caty is keen to ensure she supports local businesses - sourcing her fruit and vegetables from the city centre market.

Even the furniture and kitchen appliances have been purchased from City of Wolverhampton businesses.

Caty said: “I know Wolverhampton well and the city is on the up with all the regeneration going on and businesses like Debenhams opening.

“I have had great business support from council partner Access to Business and also PeoplePlus to get where I am.

“There is nothing like this in the city and I chose the location because it is close to where the new city centre market will be.”

Alongside the vintage theme, the tea room has work areas where people can plug in their USB devices.

Councillor John Reynolds, City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “Business start-ups like this are really important to the city and I want to wish Caty well with her new venture.

“We very much value the contribution of these small businesses and the creative local people behind them.

“These are the businesses that help give Wolverhampton its own identity and character.”

A state of the art club, the biggest indoor bouldering centre in London, and the number one producer of kale crisps in Europe are just some of the businesses reaping the rewards of the Opportunity Investment Fund.

The £3.65m loans programme, jointly funded by Haringey Council and the Mayor of London, is encouraging businesses to invest in Tottenham. So far a dozen, diverse businesses and start-ups have taken advantage of the fund to spend on such essentials as refurbishment, expansion, creating new jobs or paying for more machinery.

On Wednesday 25 October an event is being held for interested businesses to find out more about the fund and to meet those who have already benefitted from it. The only initial criteria being that the business must be based in Tottenham or is planning to move there.

“It will be a good chance for people to hear details about the loan fund and how it can help their business grow,” said Keith Trotter, Tottenham Town Centre Growth Manager at Haringey Council. “Tottenham has become a great place to move to and is that sweet spot combining excellent transport links and an easily accessible location that is still relatively affordable.”

The event will be hosted at Five Miles in Markfield Road N15; a new bar, club and brewery that used part of the loan to pay for the custom-made club space and equipment.

“The club is a world-class performance and dance space which will help put Tottenham on the map,” said joint-owner Mark Shaffer. “We’ll be open seven days a week with events most nights and we see this as a cultural hub for the area. Dealing with the council on the loan has been a breath of fresh air and the support we’ve received has been brilliant.”

“More businesses should take advantage of it if they are intent on growing their business,” added Dominik Schnell, co-founder of inSpiral Visionary Products. “At the moment we produce about 200,000 bags of kale chips a month but we hope to double that in the next five years.”

The Coalition for Marriage, (C4M) has appointed a new Campaign Director.

Thomas Pascoe, a former journalist and senior manager of one of Britain’s largest international development projects, will take up the role on Wednesday 20th September, although he has been advising the organisation for several months.

C4M is the UK’s largest pro-traditional marriage organisation with hundreds of thousands of supporters. It was set up in 2012 to oppose Government attempts to redefine marriage and promote the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others and for life.

Colin Hart, the outgoing Campaign Director who will remain as Chairman, commented: “I am delighted to pass the baton on to Thomas to carry on our work of supporting those who believe in traditional marriage and are concerned about politically correct state interference in this ancient institution.”

Mr Pascoe added: “Traditional marriage and its supporters remain under attack by an army of politicians and activists. No institution does more for the wellbeing of children or society than traditional marriage, and I promise to do all I can to protect it against the assaults of those who would rather sound good than do right.”

C4M has set out ambitious plans for the coming year in a brochure for supporters, which will be issued at the same time as Thomas’ appointment. The Coalition will concentrate on a range of initiatives across education, transgenderism, press fairness and freedom of speech. Later this month it will publish new polling it has commissioned.

Before joining C4M, Thomas ran a major international development programme in Nigeria for four years. He has also worked as the assistant comment editor for the Daily Telegraph and as an underwriter in the Lloyd's of London insurance market.

He read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University and is also a Chartered Insurer. He is married with one child.

Mr Pascoe concluded: “Five years ago we warned that same-sex marriage would lead down a slippery slope. Now even the idea of man and woman is seen as offensive in some public bodies, lawyers are pushing for no-fault divorce and a sexual free-for-all is being encouraged in our classrooms. In response we are preparing for our biggest campaigning year since the Same-Sex Marriage Act became law.  We will stand up for those who believe in traditional marriage and provide a voice for those left voiceless in the current debate.”

With over 70 businesses exhibiting and approximately 500 delegates in attendance, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce were delighted with the success of their Annual Exhibition.

Having taken place on 28th September at Wolverhampton Racecourse, the event marked the culmination of Wolverhampton Business Week and offered the local business community an insight into a range of innovative technologies. In addition, a series of seminars took place that shared knowledge on a variety of business related topics, including skills, international trade and competitiveness. Also new for 2017, there was a funding marketplace on-hand to offer businesses support and advice on how to maximise their growth potential.

Amongst those businesses showcasing their technological prowess, Stone's Throw Media demonstrated a drone over the racecourse, whilst Atmos VR invited delegates to try out a virtual reality headset, and VOiD Applications offered an insight into smart factory applications. Matt Weston, Director of Stone’s Throw Media, commented: "We have had a lot of interest in our video production services and have had meaningful conversations with a range of companies."

From a delegate perspective, Kevin Rogers, CEO of Paycare, commented: "It has been a fantastic Exhibition. There have been more people than I have seen here before, and there is a real feeling of enthusiasm around the place and lots of positivity. There is a genuine feeling that despite this being a time of political uncertainty, there is a need to get on and grow. No one can afford to wait around."

Following the Exhibition, the Black Country Department for International Trade team ran a Trading with Europe Live event, whereat companies were able to Skype with traders in nine countries to discover export opportunities and get advice on growing their business.

Corin Crane, Chief Executive at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: "This year, we have endeavoured to offer a more diverse and holistic experience for our Annual Exhibition. The business insight seminars have proven to be a resounding success, as too have the technology demonstrations that we’ve had taking place throughout.

"In essence, our Annual Exhibition is a great opportunity for local businesses to show just how good they are. Furthermore, with it taking place during Wolverhampton Business Week, there is a real collective energy across the region of the business community coming together."

The U.S. Virgin Islands is getting back to the business of welcoming visitors to its shores following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which struck the Territory last month.
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty reported that the airports on St. Croix and St. Thomas are now open to commercial flights, and one of the flagship hotels on the island of St. Croix, The Buccaneer, has announced it is accepting reservations for leisure guests arriving on or after November 1, 2017.
The historic property received minimal damage to its infrastructure and has remained open to accommodate relief personnel. The resort team reports that while availability is limited due to many rooms being occupied by federal relief teams, the hotel will be fully operational and ready to welcome vacationers starting November 1. Key facilities and amenities, including Mermaid Beach, the golf course, tennis courts, pool, the spa and Mermaid Restaurant will be available for guests.
Additionally, the resort will host the annual St. Croix Coral Reef Swim on November 5. Now in its 22nd year, the race attracts fitness swimmers and world-class athletes who compete in various swim courses, culminating at The Buccaneer's Mermaid Beach.
As discussions with transportation partners continue, the Department of Tourism reports JetBlue Airways has resumed commercial service to the Territory. This service is in addition to American Airlines operations at both the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, as well as Delta Air Lines and Spirit Airlines service to and from St. Thomas. Inter-island flights by Air Sunshine, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines are also operational. As conditions improve, airline schedules are likely to normalize. In the interim, passengers are encouraged to check with their airlines for flight times.
"We are working closely with our airline partners to ensure there are commercial flight services to meet the needs of our residents, businesses, visitors and the numerous professionals who are supporting the hurricane recovery," said Commissioner Nicholson-Doty. "We will continue to advocate for expanded service as more of our hotel properties reopen and demand begins to grow in the marketplace," she said.
In order to assess overall readiness of the destination to welcome visitors, the Department of Tourism has met with business leaders in the St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John districts, and is in the process of conducting an assessment of hotels, attractions and other visitor-related businesses to determine the extent of damage, availability of power and water, and anticipated reopening dates.
The storms' impact to the Territory's hotel inventory was not as extensive in St. Croix as it was in St. Thomas and St. John. In addition to The Buccaneer, Caravelle Hotel & Casino and Tamarind Reef Resort in St. Croix are currently housing relief workers.
Seaport facilities are open, and businesses and attractions are looking forward to welcoming cruise visitors in November.
While the clean-up process is underway in the town of Frederiksted on St. Croix, many dining establishments, stores and activities are up and running in Christiansted on the eastern side of the island. Similarly, shops, restaurants and attractions are ready to welcome customers in St. Thomas. The downtown Charlotte Amalie shopping area, including businesses on Main Street and at Havensight Mall, is ready to open, with power and water already restored. On St. John, efforts are ongoing to clear debris, restore infrastructure and reopen the Virgin Islands National Park.
Many of the Territory's beaches are getting set to reopen in the weeks ahead, pending the completion of water quality testing by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Six months after its introduction, businesses remain in the dark about how best to utilise the Apprenticeship Levy, according to a survey released today (Friday) by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), in conjunction with Middlesex University London.

The annual workforce survey of over 1,400 businesses found that nearly a quarter (23%) of levy-paying firms have no understanding of the Apprenticeship Levy or don’t know how their company will respond to it.

Businesses with a pay-bill of less than £3m fall under the levy threshold but can still apply for apprentice funding, yet the findings of the survey show 66% of these companies haven’t taken any direct action to use the funds or don’t know about it.

For over half of levy-paying businesses, it represents an added cost, with 56% not expecting to recover any or only a portion of their payment, compared to 36% who expect to recover all or more of their payment.

The findings reinforce the need for clearer guidance and support for businesses wanting to utilise the Apprenticeship Levy. Firms, both above and below the levy threshold, are uncertain about how to use the funds to find and train the skills they need, undermining the purpose of the system.

Martin Dudley, Chief Executive of Thomas Dudley Ltd, commented: “Uncertainty leads to procrastination, and the implementation of the levy has led to a drop in apprenticeships in the short term. Neither businesses nor providers know what is going on. However, training was not previously seen by businesses as a high enough priority and providers were not talking to businesses about their needs. The levy has the potential to change this.”

Vikki Haines, Careers Enterprise Co-ordinator at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “As a Chamber, we feel that communication has been inconsistent and businesses have found it difficult to find answers. Therefore, we are calling for robust channels of communication to be made available. In essence, businesses require greater flexibility on how they can utilise their levy monies and a system that is fully operational as quickly as possible, is simple and efficient, and that enables them to access good quality training.”