Colors: Purple Color

Hundreds of Stoke-on-Trent residents are backing calls for the City Council to work solely with companies that pay ​full sick pay to care staff ​that need to take time off work because of Covid, says UNISON today (Tuesday). 

More than 400 people have signed a UNISON petition calling on councillors to ​better support staff who’ve battled to keep vulnerable ​and elderly people safe for the past year, UNISON says. The petition is to be delivered to the Civic Centre at noon tomorrow (Wednesday)*. 

More than thirty local care providers are only paying staff £96.35 a week if they need to isolate, the bare minimum the law allows, adds UNISON. This is despite local care employers receiving more than £6m from the Council to make sure low-paid staff aren’t out of pocket. ​

The cash is from the government’s £1.3bn social care infection control fund, specifically created to compensate low-paid staff, UNISON says.

Among the petition supporters are Stoke FC personality Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, who’s backing the call for fair pay, says UNISON.  

UNISON Staffordshire community health assistant branch secretary Steve Jones said: “Care workers putting their health and that of their families on the line deserve more than the shabby treatment they’ve received from some employers. 

“The people of Stoke want the Council to do more to support care staff and make sure they don’t lose out financially for doing the right thing.   

“The Council must act now to make it a contractual requirement for all commissioned care employers to pay care workers their normal wages when they have to self-isolate. Payments must be backdated so staff ​don't lose out for keeping the people they care for safe.”  

A business in Solihull, in the West Midlands, has raised money for food banks after committing to a virtual charity 5K and donating £100 worth of food to charity every month.

UVA UK is set to launch its new app-based ride-hailing service in Birmingham soon and has pledged to donate 3% of its overall profits to charities in the UK. Making good on its promise ahead of its launch, six UVA employees laced up their running shoes for The Trussell Trust’s Race Against Hunger 5k to raise money to help the charity on its mission to end poverty and destitution. The event saw 851 runners take part, raising more than £116,000.

The charity recently revealed that in the first six months of the pandemic, food banks in its network gave out 1.2 million emergency food parcels to those who needed them, which equates to one food parcel every 13 seconds. Alongside the 5k, UVA has committed to donating £100 a month to The Trussell Trust to support its network of food banks. The ambitious ride-hailing company, which has long-term plans of becoming a UK wide operation, has also launched its Local Heroes initiative to reward and celebrate incredible acts of bravery and generosity to individuals in the regions it operates in. 

Its first Local Heroes prize has been awarded to Turki Al-Shammari who jumped into icy waters to save the life of a dog walker who appeared to be drowning. UVA sent him a personalised letter along with a £100 voucher to celebrate and mark his courageous act. 

Ayesha Rees, CEO of UVA UK, said: “Giving back to our local communities is at the heart of our business model. These recent charity donations mark the start of a long term commitment to support those who need it most. It’s going to be an exciting month for us. The team have been training hard for The Trussell Trust 5K and it’s been brilliant to name Turki who recently saved a dog walker from a river as our first UVA Local Hero.”

Turki Al-Shammari, said: “I am humbled by the nomination for the UVA Local Hero Awards. Many things have crossed my mind since the incident, the praises and kind words I hear from people has really touched me. 

“Being physically able to help someone in need is a blessing, the letter I received from the UVA showed me the value of recognition as a form of help. I’m glad we all still see some positivity in such tough times.”

Rail passengers are being urged to travel either side of the early May bank holiday when hundreds of railway engineers improve the West Coast main line.

Millions of pounds is being invested to improve future journeys for passengers and freight on Network Rail’s West Coast South route.

Between Saturday 1 and Monday 3 May, Euston station will be closed to main line train services while track upgrades take place in London, Watford and Milton Keynes.

The best time to travel will be on Friday 30 April and Tuesday 4 May.
Passengers needing to travel on the days in between will have longer journeys, fewer available seats, and may need to use rail replacement buses.

People should continue to follow Government guidance around the use of public transport and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible. Those needing to travel during the railway improvements should plan ahead by visiting:

James Dean, Network Rail’s West Coast South route director, said: “There is never an ideal time to shut the railway and we have worked hard to minimise disruption across the spring and summer – including a safe and reliable railway for the future. “The scale of work planned this May will mean changes for passengers, but we’re working with train companies to minimise disruption to people as much as possible.”

Elsewhere in Network Rail’s North West and Central region, further essential work taking place between May 1 and 3 includes:

• Track upgrades take place at various locations between Preston – Penrith
• Signalling upgrades continue in Trafford, Manchester.
• Work at Euston station to prepare it for HS2, Britain’s new high-speed railway.

The early May bank holiday will also be a major milestone for the East West Rail project - as work continues to reinstate a rail route between Oxford and Bletchley for the first time in more than 50 years. Huge steel beams will be lifted across all four lines of the West Coast main line as a flyover is rebuilt. It involves the dismantling of the 25,000 volt overhead line system which powers electric trains.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Rail staff will be working hard to upgrade the network over the May bank holiday to make future journeys more reliable, so we’re asking anyone travelling between 1 and 3 May to check before they travel.

"While extra cleaning and better information will help people travel with confidence, we ask passengers to wear their face masks and to consider whether their journey is really necessary if it will be affected by engineering work.”

This spring Network Rail brought forward some planned bank holiday projects and did the work while fewer people were travelling during the national coronavirus lockdown. This included carrying out projects in record breaking time in North London and Northamptonshire, saving taxpayers millions of pounds.

This super-fast approach meant Euston would not need to close at Easter or the late May bank holiday. However, the scale of the upgrades further up the West Coast main line meant the closure over 1-3 May was unavoidable.

Reviews into other planned summer upgrade work is underway to reduce its impact on passengers as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a strong March sales result, Jaguar and Land Rover retailers across England and Wales reopen today, nearly 100 days after the last national lockdown was announced.

Having operated virtually throughout lockdown, Jaguar Land Rover has achieved 5.3% of UK registrations in that last 12 months, an increase of 0.2% on the same period last year, which equates to 23.7% of market share in its competitive segments – all from behind closed doors. Now, customers nationwide can fully experience new Jaguar and Land Rover models in the metal for the first time.

COVID-safe procedures remain in place for full customer confidence including floor markings to aid social distancing, extra ventilation and sanitisation throughout and staggered appointment times to reduce the number of visitors in the showroom at any one time. Test drives will be unaccompanied and documentation will be exchanged digitally where possible to reduce contact points.

Jaguar and Land Rover’s lockdown ‘Click and Collect’ service for new vehicle handovers remains in place so customers can be confident that the same strict cleaning and sanitising procedures are in place ahead of handover.

In the past few months Jaguar has significantly updated the E-PACE and F-PACE with the introduction of new plug-in hybrid and mild-hybrid variants, along with updated interior, exterior and technology. Likewise, the Jaguar XF has received a fresh new look inside and out for 2021 with mild-hybrid engines and a range of advanced technologies, including the acclaimed Pivi Pro infotainment system.

Land Rover has also updated its Discovery seven-seat SUV with enhanced design, Pivi Pro and a range of efficient mild-hybrid powertrains. Customers have not had chance to see the refreshed ranges until now, so presenting these new models to customers marks a significant and exciting moment for retailers.

The essential introduction of Jaguar Land Rover’s digital sales model kept customers moving throughout each of the UK’s national lockdowns but test-drives and first-person experiences remain an integral part of the customer journey. AutoTrader data shows that, of the consumers in England and Wales looking to buy a car after mid-April surveyed, 55% want to buy in person at a showroom and 25% would like to reserve the vehicle online and visit their preferred showroom to complete the purchase.   

Rawdon Glover, Managing Director, Jaguar Land Rover UK, said; “With showrooms across England and Wales re-opening, there is a huge sense of excitement and potential in our outlook. We have learnt a lot in the last 12 months about how our customers want to buy cars, be it digitally, in person or as a blend of both. Now, with an enhanced portfolio with brand new models, and the inevitable demand has built since showrooms closed, we’re ready to showcase these wonderful vehicles and provide tailored experiences for our customers.

“Special thanks to our teams who have been working during lockdown to prepare for the safe reopening of showrooms, this is an important step in the strengthening of Jaguar and Land Rover, and the UK car industry as a whole.”

With 198 Jaguar and Land Rover retailer showrooms across the UK, customers can book their visit and/or test drive immediately – Jaguar customers can also benefit from an extended test drive option from early April until the end of June, designed to give customers optimum time behind the wheel.

Centre for Cities think tank has called upon all of the candidates vying to be the West Midlands mayor to prioritise boosting economic growth and the post-Covid economic recovery ahead of next month’s election. The West Midlands entered the Covid-19 pandemic with levels of unemployment well above average, and the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits has increased by a further 77,000 – enough to fill the Hawthorns three times over – since March 2020.

To address this challenge and build back better from the pandemic, Centre for Cities’ policy paper (link active from 00:01 on Monday 19 April) sets out three key areas for the election winner to focus on.

1. Help Birmingham and Coventry city centres recover from Covid-19

Birmingham city centre’s economy has been hit particularly hard by lockdown. The ease with which many people have switched to homeworking has meant that the city centre’s footfall levels have been among the lowest in the country in the past year – with negative consequences for hospitality and retail businesses. City centre footfall and spending needs to increase avoid more job losses.

The next metro mayor should launch a campaign, similar to Sadiq Khan’s ‘London is Open’ campaign, to encourage a return to city centre working and public transport usage once it is safe to do so.

At the same time, the metro mayor should seek to increase the amount of high-quality city centre office space and new homes close to railway stations to ensure that the West Midlands remains affordable for workers.

2. Get unemployed people back to work

Unemployment is a particularly bad challenge for the West Midlands; almost one in ten adults are now claiming unemployment related benefits – the highest of any English city region.

The next metro mayor will need to implement targeted programmes to get people back to work, particularly those who have been out of work for a long time. In addition, they should assess the effectiveness of how money is currently being spent and streamline the training provision available to people – for example through the number of apprenticeships being offered.

3. Introduce congestion charging and boost bus ridership

Peak time congestion is a serious challenge that limits economic growth in the West Midlands. The next metro mayor should address this by introducing a congestion charge in Birmingham city centre. Congestion charging is politically controversial but is proven to have reduced congestion in other cities. The money raised can be invested in public transport.

In addition, the next metro mayor should bring the West Midlands’ buses under public management, as the Mayor of Greater Manchester recently announced plans to. This would improve services, reduce fares and unlock millions of pounds of extra central government funding.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “The last year has hit the West Midlands’s economy very hard and the next metro mayor has a big job ahead of them to repair some of this damage.

“Whoever is elected on May 6 needs to support Birmingham and Coventry city centres’ recoveries and work with local stakeholders, businesses and the Government to open up employment and education opportunities to anyone who needs them. Without these, employment will rise even further and thousands more people could find themselves locked out of the labour market.

“This is not a job that can be done from Whitehall and the Government should listen to the substantial majority of people in the West Midlands who back giving more powers to the West Midlands Mayor.” Recent Centre for Cities/Savanta ComRes polling found that 80% of people in the West Midlands back giving more powers to the metro mayor.

Almost half (46%) support giving the Mayor more responsibility for providing affordable housing, while significant numbers back the Mayor having a bigger role in supporting business (42%) and providing access to skills and training (40%). Just 5% of the public oppose further devolution to the West Midlands Mayor.

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, two female entrepreneurs currently working with Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) at Birmingham City University (part-funded by the European Social Fund) over the last two months have been highlighted. And they are going from strength-to-strength in the face of the challenges faced when growing a business and the support available through HLSM to help provide support.

Vanessa Kelly runs 2 Much Passion CIC, a non-profit organisation that teaches, trains and provides creative cooking classes that boost individual and family well-being by supporting them out of poverty. 

“We’re a non-profit organisation built on the sole purpose that food can bring people together” she says. “Our project’s Let’s Get Culture Cooking and Young Foodeez provides an online platform for growth and develop of cooking courses and events. We work from cooks to chefs and allow them to reach their full potential.” 

Muneerah Dubidat, who runs Transform Coaching & Events, whose enterprise supports hundreds of women online by offering coaching, mentoring, group workshop facilitation and events. The aim is to take women from a place of low confidence and low self-esteem to confident decision-makers and action takers. 

Reflecting on the last 12 months, Muneerah says “Transform Coaching & Events has supported hundreds of women online, building a beautiful community of empowered women seeking positive change in their lives.

“By focusing on ‘Self-Love’ and ‘Self-confidence’ the women gain the self-belief needed to take action, so they can achieve the life they want, whilst confidently owning their power and uniqueness. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge and that is exactly what we do as an organisation.

We challenge women’s thinking and help them to remove their perceived limitations so that they can create the change that they want to see.” 

Fast business growth hasn’t come without its challenges. Finding the time and knowledge to develop her brand online, and transition her mindset from an employee to a business owner were just two of the many challenges Muneerah faced. That was as well as the ongoing financial pressures. 

“Firstly, starting my business with very little capital during a pandemic presented challenges around balancing the needs of my family and the financial pressures to generate income to build a successful business. 

“I would have loved to employ a Digital Marketing expert to help me stand out and reach my niche, but that wasn’t an option for me at the time. But what it did give me was the opportunity to access a range of free training on-line, which opened more doors and opportunities to learn.” 

As well as access to knowledge and resource, Muneerah found she needed a mental shift in her approach to work. “Another business challenge was the transition in my mindset from an employee to a business owner. From the basics of registering my business and meeting Statutory Obligations, to decision making on a level that I had not yet experienced in my previous day to day roles. 

“Also, maintaining personal motivation and not being so hard on myself remain a daily challenge, especially being a high achiever. But I continue to draw upon my ever-growing network to help me make my mission a reality.” 

With this in mind, Vanessa also spoke about the challenges as a female entrepreneur and balancing overseeing all aspects of running a business through the different stages. Vanessa reflected on the importance of learning quickly the difference in work ethic and passion within the industry and the importance of the different skills individuals can bring.  

“My biggest challenge as a female entrepreneur is having to wear many different hats throughout all the different stages of my business” Vanessa stressed.  However, the importance of embracing new opportunities as business owners isn’t to be forgotten.  

“There is never one-hat-fits-all, it’s really important to be adaptable and allow yourself to be open to new opportunities. At times you’re the accountant, the social media manager, the admin, the driver, cleaner, it important to be prepared to work in all the different parts of the business. Until the day you are ready to expand and take staff on.”  

Similarly to Muneerah’s transition from an employee to a business owner, being familiar with changing mindsets was something Vanessa also felt was important for her when it came to business growth and taking on your first employees.  

“Once that happens you have to learn quickly not everyone has the same work ethic or passion as you do, everybody has different skill sets so appreciating individuals for being different and bringing something different to the table is a very valuable mindset.”  

When it came to supporting the development and management of individual and team skills within a business, both women sought out the support of Higher Level Skills Match – our Account Managed Skills solution. 

Asking both Vanessa and Muneerah on how approaching Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) helped them and their business, Vanessa says: “The support on offer and the quality of the placement students has been amazing, it has meant that our business will grow and will continue to grow.” 

During a difficult year for business, students and graduates, and the community as a whole. The great collaboration between business and universities is incredibly valuable. HLSM enabled Vanessa and Muneerah to get access to students who were able to support their small businesses in specialist areas, as well as giving the students the opportunity to gain valuable skills to support with their career journey.

Muneerah also echoes the access to support from students “HLSM provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses like me to make connections with new talent wishing to establish themselves and gain experiences to springboard their careers. I was in the exact same position a few years ago, and as a new business owner, I’m excited and honoured to be able to offer growth opportunities for the students of Birmingham City University. 

“Being able to access the HLSM programme, allows me to develop my business, whilst giving the individual supporting me the much-needed business knowledge, exposure and experience to develop themselves and their career, which is a win-win for everyone.”  

Aside, to the additional access to student talent both businesses found the upskilling support helped them improve their own business management skills and become more confident in their own skillset.

Muneerah mentioned; “another advantage of being a part of the HSLM programme is having the opportunity to strengthen my current knowledge and skills, allowing me to take my business further and faster. I’m currently in the process of getting the valuable support needed and can’t wait to see the direct impact that being on the programme has on my business growth.”

Asking both Vanessa and Muneerah on the advice they would have for other business owners, especially on steps to growth.  

Vanessa says: “The best advice I would give to other businesses is to utilise the services that are made available, sometime you may think you don’t have the time to train a placement student or wonder if they are going to bring any value. The answer is YES, the new opportunity you open for them could be the new lease of life your business was looking for.”

Muneerah added: “My biggest piece of advice for other business owners looking to grow would be to invest in getting the right support for you and your business as soon as possible.

“Yes, you have done an amazing job taking your business this far (and possibly on your own) and you should be proud of everything you have achieved. But imagine how much further you could go with the advice, support and expertise of organisations whose sole focus is ensuring the success of your business. 

“Whether that’s business support through a service like Higher Level Skills Match, a collaboration with another complimentary business or having a conversation with a friend who runs a successful business. It will always be beneficial for you to get someone outside of the business give you their non-judgement feedback to help you grow your business in ways that you would not have thought were possible. 

“And most importantly, enjoy the journey, look to the future with excitement and continue to influence and create change in your industry, using your uniqueness. As after all, that is your superpower and what you offer is exactly what the world needs right now!”  

Both businesses are looking to continue to grow and inspire more and more each day.