Colors: Purple Color

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.”

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) are spearheading a drive to create more business with Turkey.

A delegation from the GBCC has been on a lightning visit to Bursa, about 100 miles from Istanbul and met businesses who are thirsting to establish business with UK SMEs.

This was made obvious with visit to several companies, including a textile giant and huge manufacturing plants.

Paul Faulkner, the GBCC’s chief executive, said: “This was an extremely productive and insightful trip. There is so much potential in Turkey and one that West Midlands companies must take a close look at.

“It is obvious that many UK companies are fearful of even getting into export markets, but they do need to understand that there is huge potential out there.

“And it may not be obvious, but there are many countries like Turkey that UK businesses do not take seriously as potential partners.

“To drive this new understanding, the Chamber has agreed to promote a huge Bursa International Summit beginning at the end of November which is being led by Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BTSO).

“This will be a great opportunity for inquisitive and ambitious businesses in Greater Birmingham to start to explore and develop relationships with Bursa firms, and BTSO have made it clear that they will welcome us back with open arms and do all they can to facilitate the opening up of new relationships.

“And there are easy links with Bursa via Istanbul with 12 direct flights a week with Turkish Airlines from Birmingham Airport. I urge anyone with any interest in joining us and attending to reach out as soon as possible.

Chamber Commerce membership in Turkey is compulsory and the BTSO demonstrated how effectively they can support their 40,000 members.

Cuneyt Sener, vice president of BTSO, said: “We really want to establish serious contact with UK companies and urge them to come here to see what we do.

“Bursa is a city of huge potential and we will shortly be opening a shopping centre in Moscow to sell goods from our region. We have plans to do similar exercises throughout the world.

“It is really important that UK companies come here and push themselves. They should tell us what they want from Bursa and we will be very happy to help them.”

The GBCC delegation included president Paul Kehoe, chief operating officer Russell Jeans and Professor Alex De Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University.

Mr Kehoe said: “Understanding this area is just an eye-opener and we need to spread the word on the success business out here are having. We need to be their allies.

“Between us we can provide links between Asia in the east through Bursa and through towards the west and the United States.”

Mr Jeans said: “We were all impressed with the tremendous enthusiasm here from businesses that have great synergies with the UK.

“The GBCC’s International Hub will be driving greater links with Turkey and Bursa in particular and we are happy to facilitate any company that wants to look at doing business there.”

The Birmingham delegation visited a textile manufacturing giant, Ilay Textile, who are planning to open a UK office to cope with a growing market here, currently running at 10 million dollars annually. Part of those sales is a yearly contract to supply Marks & Spencer with dress materials.

Durmazlar, established in 1987 as Turkey’s first sheet metal company now employing 1,500 people with lazar-cutting machines and the complete production of trams, largely for the city of Bursa but with world-wide ambitions.

Yepsan, an archetypical metal-bashing company that supplies components to Fiat, Bentley, VW, Audi and Volvo among others also  have a huge defence and aviation division based in Turkey’s capital Ankara with customers like Boeing and Airbus. They also specialise in manufacturing helicopter simulators and seats

As ART Business Loans celebrated 20 years of lending to small businesses in the West Midlands at its AGM, Chief Executive Steve Walker said: “We are ready, willing and able to do more to fill the gap in the market for small business loans left by the banks.  Both research and our experience on the ground show this gap to be bigger than it was in 1997, when we were set up to tackle the issue.”

Offering his congratulations on ART’s achievements over 20 years, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, who was guest speaker at the AGM, described ART as one of the unsung heroes of the local business finance scene, saying: “I first met Steve Walker when I became Chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and was impressed by his knowledge, enthusiasm and determination when it comes to finance for enterprise.  Access to finance was always a key issue raised with the LEP and ART was always there – from long before the LEP came into being – persistently working, even through difficult times, to ensure that businesses could access the finance they needed to survive and thrive.  ART has made a big difference to hundreds of businesses and a huge contribution to the local economy over the past two decades.  In some ways the access to finance situation has improved in recent years, but there are still issues to tackle.”

Steve Walker believes the issues remaining include the tendency for new initiatives led by the public sector to focus on larger, high growth, businesses.  “Some businesses are finding it easier to access finance,” he says, “but those which are smaller and don’t fit the credit scoring criteria of either the banks or some of the new alternative finance providers, still need ART.  We lend up to £150,000 to any type of business, for any business purpose.  Our aim is to support local jobs for local people, remaining true to the mission set out by our founding Chairman Sir Adrian Cadbury.”

Sir Adrian’s son Benedict and daughter Caroline attended the AGM along with over 60 ART members, borrowers, introducers, partners and supporters.

Nick Venning, the recently appointed new Chair of ART, said: “ART has £7.5m to lend over the next three years, which is extremely good news.  We are set to increase our loan book and are actively seeking additional funding to enable us to support even more businesses.  ART’s approach is inclusive.  We will continue to help any business in need of funding that in turn supports jobs and the local West Midlands economy.”

Müller will invest £100m over the next three years to develop, manufacture and market a new generation of branded and private label yogurt and desserts products, made from milk produced by British farmers.

Already the UK's favourite yogurt and desserts brand picked from supermarket shelves 208 million times each year*, Müller aims to strengthen its leadership in parts of the category where it is already ever-present whilst introducing exciting new branded and private label products where it is currently absent.

The company plans to further grow and innovate brands including category leader Müllerlight, Müller Corner and Müller Rice, and aims to broaden their usage occasions and availability. Müller will also build on its successful licensing agreement with Mondelez to develop its range of Cadbury products, including entry to new segments of the desserts sector.

To accommodate its plans, capacity and capabilities at its three sites in Shropshire will be further upgraded, including doubling the size of the Telford facility by 2020.

Müller will also increase its marketing spend by almost 25% over the next three years, ensuring that its growing portfolio of branded products benefit from sustained and focused support in line with the company's ambitions.

Plans for its yogurt and desserts business are guided by a category vision which identified a potential £233m of yogurt and desserts category growth by 2020, to be delivered by bringing excitement, innovation and game changing new products to the market.

Already this year, Müller has successfully introduced a range of 'Big Pot' yogurts, its first ever whipped fat free Greek style yogurt and its first branded shareable dessert.

It has announced the arrival of Müller White Velvet, injecting new excitement into the plain yogurt sector in the UK, and two Müller Corner SKUs with spoons to target the growing food to go market.

And most recently, the company introduced Müller Rice 5 Grains which includes white rice, barley, spelt, millet and wheat, a perfect on-the-go snack for hungry consumers, whether that's after the gym or the rush hour commute.

Müller has also extended its successful partnership with British Athletics so that it has branding and activation rights for six major athletics events in 2018 and 2019.

Bergen Merey, Managing Director of Müller Yogurt & Desserts said:

“This unprecedented level of investment will ensure that we can offer an increasing portfolio of great yogurt and desserts products made in Britain with milk from British farmers, which meet the needs of our customers.

“Müller's approach in the UK within the yogurt and desserts and milk and ingredients sectors, is to grow our capabilities so that we can reduce the UK's dependence on imported dairy products, and build a vibrant future for the British dairy industry.”

A senior Sandwell councillor has been appointed a SCAMbassador and joined a national campaign to reduce fraud and criminal financial abuse, referred to as scams.

Councillor Elaine Costigan, cabinet member for health and public protection, is backing the council's involvement in the national Friends Against Scams initiative and urging people to become SCAMfriends.

The scheme aims to tackle the lack of scams awareness by providing information about scams and those who can fall victim to them.

People can become SCAMfriends by attending a short 40-minute session locally or by competing an online learning session.

The council’s trading standards team has been busy recruiting eight SCAMchampions – people who run short scam awareness sessions, resulting so far in 200 SCAMfriends - as well as two SCAMbassadors.

SCAMbassadors such as Councillor Costigan, use their influence to highlight the problem, change people’s perceptions and make the fraud and financial abuse a local, regional and national topic of conversation.

Recent scam cases in Sandwell have included a Tipton woman in her eighties who was conned out of £150,000 and had been targeted over several years, and a Great Barr man in his nineties, who lost more than £300,000.

Councillor Costigan, said: “Scams affect the lives of millions of people. People who become victims often experience loneliness, shame and isolation.

“Sadly our own trading standards team hear of far too many heart-rending cases where Sandwell people have been cheated by these fraudsters with the elderly and vulnerable often being systematically targeted.

“Since joining up with the National Trading Standards Scam Team in 2013, the council has supported more than 500 residents including some who have been repeat victims of scams, and in some cases have recovered some of the money they have lost.

"Through the campaign, we will continue to raise awareness by creating SCAMfriends. Information is the scammer’s enemy and by raising awareness we will continue to work against them.”

Joining Councillor Costigan in taking a stand against scams is director of prevention and protection Stuart Lackenby, who has also become a SCAMbassador.

He said: “Anyone can become a SCAMfriend  by attending a Friends Against Scams awareness session in person or completing online learning. They can learn how to identify different types of fraud and how to spot and support a victim.

"With their increased knowledge and awareness, they can then make scams part of everyday conversation with their family, friends and neighbours helping to protect themselves and others.”

Awareness sessions are being run by SCAM champions who are trained and supported by the National Trading Standards Scams team.

Sessions will also be run during Sandwell's Safer 6 campaign which runs from Saturday 23 September to Sunday 5 November.

An exciting line-up of brave business individuals have been coerced into performing a live, five-minute original stand-up comedy routine in front of their colleagues, clients, friends and family in a bid to be crowned ‘Wolverhampton Stand Up Challenge Winner’.

The daring, unwitting participants that have already signed up to months of secret preparation and training to boldly take on the 2017 Stand Up Challenge are:

  • Andy Cox, Managing Director at Cox & Plant
  • Jan Denning, Commercial Sales Director at Wolverhampton Racecourse
  • Dawn Owen, Director at Bodykraft
  • Kevin Rogers, Chief Executive at Paycare
  • Malcolm Wright, Business Entrepreneur

Jan Denning, Commercial Sales Director at Wolverhampton Racecourse commented, “My tummy is already doing flips at the thought. That aside, I’m looking forward to learning about this art and feeling proud that we did it - a group of local business people working together, having lots of fun and raising some money along the way. I just hope security do bag searches for any rotten tomatoes!”

Entrepreneur, Malcolm Wright known locally for his management role at the Wolverhampton Ramada Park Hall Hotel & Spa and his subsequent impact on the region, commented on his forthcoming participation, “I feel sick to my stomach about doing the Stand Up Challenge, but I have agreed to do it to take myself out of my comfort zone. It’s one thing I’m particularly poor at: telling jokes and being in front of an audience with lights shining down on me like something out of Shawshank redemption.”

The evening will be hosted by comedian, Jarred Christmas, and it promises to be a night of extreme entertainment, whilst raising funds for local community interest company, Creative Black Country - who work with local people to discover, explore and grow an exciting and meaningful programme of arts activity in the Black Country.

Sajida Carr from Creative Black Country said, “This is a great new initiative for the Black Country and one which I am confident will go down extremely well. Creative Black Country is very excited to be involved in such entertaining projects which make the most of the Black Country through arts and culture.”

The Stand Up Challenge, sponsored by the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and the Black Country Business Festival, also forms part of the Funny Things – a new Festival to celebrate Black Country humour that runs from 23rd October to 5th November 2017.

Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce said, “The Black Country has a strong history in comedy and continues to thrive throughout the region today. Initiatives like this bring this sector to the forefront even more. The business community spends its 'life' being serious, so this is its chance to have a laugh in aid of a good cause.

“The Chamber is proud to support innovative ideas such as this and the Black Country Business Festival. As well as bringing the business community together, they raise the profile of the Black Country by highlighting what a fantastic place it is to live, work and do business. It’s even better that we can show we have a sense of humour at the same time!”