Colors: Purple Color

One of the first companies to sign up to a programme to improve the digital capabilities of smaller businesses has officially opened its new company headquarters and factory in Sandwell. Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) cut the ribbon at Ramfoam’s new site on Hainge Road, Tividale which will see the business increase in size by 50 per cent.

Ramfoam, which makes foam products for the military and other organisations, was one of the first businesses to sign up to the West Midlands Made Smarter programme which is aimed at increasing the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adopting digital technology in manufacturing.

Birmingham City Council has signed a charter, as a commitment to proactively work to ensure there are no instances of modern slavery taking place within its supply chain. Modern slavery can affect anyone, anywhere: and we know that many thousands of people in the UK could experience exploitation or are survivors of modern slavery.

As Europe’s largest local authority, Birmingham is the largest council to sign the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery. The supply chain for council services is vast, including anything from waste disposal to construction.

The city council has provided enhanced training for its procurement staff; reviewed its internal modern slavery training; offered enhanced training to Modern Slavery Champions across the council, and actively encourages all employees to report serious wrongdoing through a whistleblowing hotline 0121 303 7601 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Under this 10-point pledge suppliers will be monitored, relevant authorities will be alerted to any concerns of modern slavery, and we will ensure that we are signposting to appropriate organisations for guidance and support. They will also challenge any abnormally low-cost tenders; require tendered contractors to adopt a whistle-blowing policy on modern slavery; refer any concerns identified to the National Crime Agency for investigation; and report annually on this policy’s implementation.

Alongside this Charter, the council will also be signing its annual Modern Slavery Transparency Statement next month, which will make some ambitious commitments, including a pledge to only use ethical imagery and language around modern slavery, and involving survivors of exploitation in the development of its work in this area.

Councillor John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities said: “Modern slavery is a really serious issue that leads to the exploitation of people, who are made to work long hours often in unsafe conditions and not for fair pay.

“That’s why I’ve signed the Co-operative Party’s charter on the city council’s behalf, to ensure we’re vetting our suppliers and supply chain to ensure there are no incidents of modern slavery within businesses that work with us. We will ensure all our contractors are aware of their requirements under the Modern Slavery Act and we will make it easy for council staff to report any issues to us through our whistleblowing policy."

Joe Fortune, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party, said: “The Co-operative Party is delighted that Birmingham City Council has signed our Charter Against Modern Slavery.

“Modern Slavery is a scourge on society, and it is landmark achievement that one of Britain's largest councils is taking this important step to clamp down on those who would profit out of human misery.” The 10 pledges Birmingham City Council has made under the Charter Against Modern Slavery are:

1. Training its procurement team to understand modern slavery through the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply’s online course on Ethical Procurement and Supply.

2. Require contractors to comply fully with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, wherever it applies, with contract termination as a potential sanction for non-compliance.

3. Challenge any abnormally low-cost tenders to ensure they do not rely upon the potential contractor practising modern slavery.

4. Highlight to suppliers that contracted workers are free to join a trade union and are not to be treated unfairly for belonging to one.

5. Publicise its whistle-blowing system for staff to blow the whistle on any suspected examples of modern slavery.

6. Require its tendered contractors to adopt a whistle-blowing policy which enables their staff to blow the whistle on any suspected examples of modern slavery.

7. Review its contractual spending regularly to identify any potential issues with modern slavery.

8. Highlight for its suppliers any risks identified concerning modern slavery and refer them to the relevant agencies to be addressed.

9. Refer for investigation via the National Crime Agency’s national referral mechanism any of its contractors identified as a cause for concern regarding modern slavery.

10. Report publicly on the implementation of this policy annually.

Azets, the UK’s largest regional accountancy and business advisor to SMEs, with 14 offices across the Midlands, Shropshire, and the Welsh Borders, is targeting quadruple growth in the region within the next five years as part of ambitious plans set out by Regional CEO Paul Clifford.

Paul is celebrating 12 months in the role having been handed overall responsibility for Azets’ Central region at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, Azets has continued to invest in people, technology, and infrastructure, and has significantly expanded its regional presence and expertise under Paul’s leadership.

Ramping up support for key industries impacted by the pandemic and helping to ease the debt burden faced by many businesses are among the requests made to government in a new report released today by Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. ‘The Final Hurdle? Areas for Urgent Action on Covid-19 Business Support’ is a new lobbying document produced by the Chamber which sets out actions that still been to be taken to help businesses survive and move forward from the pandemic.

Many of the recommendations in the report derive from stakeholder roundtables held with local SMEs, data from the Chamber’s Quarterly Business Report and anecdotal evidence from the wider membership. In the report, the Chamber urges government to:

·         Offer continued and tailored support for the live events, travel and aviation industry

·         Increase access to credit for a greater number of businesses and ease the debt burden that many firms are currently facing

·         Encourage greater business investment in the areas of training, technology and sustainability

·         Use the Fundamental Review of Business Rates to drive greater transparency and reduce business expense

·         Make additional grant funding available for those businesses and individuals that have fallen through the cracks of Government support

·         Take steps to alleviate the crippling cost pressures a number of businesses are still facing as a result of Covid-19

·         Address the practical issues that businesses are facing in attempting to comply with self-isolation guidelines and workplace compliance

·         Set out a robust blueprint for minimising the risk of future lockdowns

Henrietta Brealey, chief executive of the GBCC, said: “As national restrictions have continued to ease over the past few months and the vaccination rollout has continued at pace, there has been a notable increase in optimism across the wider business community.

“Despite the Prime Minister going ahead with Stage 4 of his plan to unlock the economy, case numbers are rising and there are still a number of businesses which are suffering from considerable economic hardship. As many of the statistics used in our latest report highlight, the intervention from Government has been unprecedented both in terms of the scale and monetary value.

“Of course businesses want to get back to a form of normalcy as soon as possible, but even more importantly, they cannot afford another lockdown. The recommendations made in this report are grounded in pragmatism and offer workable solutions to many of the immediate issues businesses are currently facing.

“The GBCC remains committed to continuing to connecting, supporting and helping local businesses to grow – in particular, will use this document as a basis for lobbying regional and national stakeholders to ensure the voice of local businesses is front and centre of this constantly evolving agenda.”

The report also highlights the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ in which many firms have been left with staff shortages due to self-isolation rules. It sets out a plan to protect small businesses who have been severely impacted and, in some cases, forced to close for up to a fortnight while staff self-isolate.

Head of policy Raj Kandola said: “We’ve seen a burst of economic activity over the last few months driven by rising levels of consumer spending as the roadmap for unlocking the economy has steadily progressed.

“However, the rate of economic growth is likely to be impacted if we continue see a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases as ultimately consumer spending will take a hit. The findings from our latest report also underline the precarious landscape many businesses are still operating in.

“That’s why it’s so important that the Government offer clear guidance to businesses on the actions they need to take in order to keep their employees and customers safe – a case we make throughout the course of this report.”

The Meet Group, Inc., a leading provider of interactive dating solutions, and Spectrum Labs, a leading AI-based content moderation platform, announced an expansion of their partnership to include a significant R&D commitment into voice moderation aimed at protecting users from online toxicity, hate speech and abuse in The Meet Group’s livestreaming products.

“Social, Dating, and Gaming companies are leaning into livestreaming video to drive community engagement,” said Justin Davis, CEO, Spectrum Labs. “With that shift comes a growing demand for effective moderation for voice. With a billion minutes spent in its livestreaming platform per month and nearly 200,000 hours of content broadcast per day, The Meet Group is a fantastic partner to work with in deploying Spectrum Labs’ toxic voice detection and moderation platform to deliver best in class user safety controls for their moderation team and consumers alike.”

“User safety is fundamental to what we do and effective moderation of livestreaming video requires effective moderation of all aspects of the stream, including voice, text chat, and video,” said Geoff Cook, CEO of The Meet Group and co-CEO ParshipMeet Group. “The combination of Spectrum Labs’ technology and moderation solutions with our leading safety standards and processes create what we believe is a model that others in the livestreaming video industry may look to follow.”

Voice moderation is currently a challenge as recording all content is not privacy-friendly in an ephemeral livestreaming video context and existing methods of AI voice moderation are onerous and cost-prohibitive as they require voice content to be transcribed before the text AI can be applied. The Meet Group and Spectrum Labs are partnering to record content at the right time and proactively and cost-effectively detect toxicity, improve accuracy for moderators, and expand safety measures for users.

The voice tracking will begin recording from two different triggers. The first trigger occurs when, upon a report button being tapped, the tool will begin recording the voice track and will send it for analysis. The second trigger will begin voice recording automatically based on the comments in the video. If an issue is believed to exist in the video based on the comments in the chat, the live stream will proactively be reported. If a content violation is believed to exist, the recording, along with the behaviour flag and a transcription, as well as the live stream itself, if still in progress, will be sent to one of The Meet Group’s 500+ human moderators who will review the content under the company’s strict Content and Conduct policy to see if a policy was violated.

The expanded partnership announced today also includes algorithmic moderation of all chats sent within The Meet Group’s livestreaming solution and AI private chat moderation.

The algorithmic chat moderation which will be available to The Meet Group apps as well as the company’s expanding list of vPaaS partners will be screening the nearly 15 million daily chats within the livestreaming feature for hate speech, sexual harassment and other code of conduct violations. In addition, private chats will also begin to be screened as part of the company’s ongoing focus on reducing online toxicity.

“The work of keeping our community safe online is never over, and we are proud to work with Spectrum Labs, a trailblazer in AI-based content moderation,” added Cook.

Azets, the UK’s largest regional accountancy and business advisor to SMEs, with 14 offices in the Midlands, has won Accountancy Firm of the Year 2021 at the prestigious City of Birmingham Business Awards (COBBA).

COBBA was established by Downtown in Business (DIB), the fastest growing business organisation in the UK, in 2017 to acknowledge and celebrate companies and entrepreneurs that have made a successful and significant contribution to economic growth in the region.

The awards, which took place in-person following 18 months of restrictions at the newly reopened Grand Hotel, Birmingham, welcomed over 150 of the city’s leading businesspeople to celebrate the best from Birmingham’s business community.

Nominated alongside BDO LLP, Grant Thornton, Haines Watts, and RSM UK, Azets, which rebranded and launched in September 2020, was named winner for its continued growth and regional impact.

This year, Azets has celebrated a record level of activity in its tax and corporate finance teams, employed 40 graduates and school leavers, and announced 100 new roles in the Midlands, available over the next 12 months, as part of plans to increase national revenue by 50% within five years.

Praveen Gupta, Tax Partner and Head of the Birmingham Office with Azets, said: “We are delighted to accept this prestigious City of Birmingham Business Award from Downtown in Business, which is testament to the hard work and dedication of our talented teams in the Midlands.

“Being named Accountancy Firm of the Year is just reward for all we have achieved, both regionally and nationally, since launching the rebranded business in 2020. We’ve advised businesses throughout an unprecedented global pandemic and continued to invest in our people and expertise, accelerating our regional growth strategy.”