Archives for category: Small & medium business [SME]

BFOE’s community share offer closes on June 2nd

Birmingham Friends of the Earth own The Warehouse in Digbeth, operating it as a not-for-profit business whilst campaigning for the improvement of the local environment. They want to raise investment capital to refurbish their building, which will lead to an increase in the financial, social and environmental value of that space:

  • there will be more space to let that is of a higher quality; this will allow them to increase the amount of space they provide and to maintain or increase the amount they charge per square foot for that space;
  • they will be looking to exceed the legal requirements (Building Regulations Part L) for conserving energy in their building by installing more insulation and more efficient glazing;
  • and they will be more accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility and offer more community meeting facilities. The work will also allow them to reduce administration costs and focus more on meeting their social goals.

See the video and read the well-produced share offer summary complete with plans. Then:

  1. Invest! If you are able to please invest whatever you can between £250 and £10,000. If you have some money in an ISA earning 0.5% interest it could be doing a lot of good. If you know you are going to invest, please do so as soon as possible as this helps them to demonstrate it’s a viable prospect with gathering momentum
  2. Tell everybody you can about it – when you’re campaigning and in your everyday life. Friends, relatives, colleagues, rich uncles – there are a lot of people that would like the chance to make an ethical investment, the challenge they have is getting the word out to enough people. It’s not a donation so they’re not asking people to give them their money, it’s an investment
  3. Support the social media campaignshare, like, retweet anything you see about the share offer – this will help them to reach as many people as possible.





Its message: the greatest need is for affordable rented housing in urban areas. Any solution to Britain’s housing crisis must include a bigger contribution from the public sector. Rather than coercive measures, the focus should be on enabling local authorities and housing associations that wish to build social housing.

Shame is poured on George Osborne’s ‘massive’ reduction of Housing Associations’ capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction per annum for 5 years: “Social housing rents are already at a large discount to private landlord rents, so this ill-advised move in one go, reduced the capital raising capability of Housing Associations”.

The FT thinks that local authorities should be allowed to:

  • set planning fees,
  • to levy taxes on idle land when developers fail to use planning permissions
  • and, crucially, to borrow in order to fund their own social housing developments.

There is a great deal that can still be done by making better use of brownfield sites and releasing public land for development. An annual tax should be levied on undeveloped land that has residential planning permission but has not been developed whether publicly-owned, or land owned privately, by companies, NGOs or agencies.

Mixed developments are being built, income from sales invested in social housing

At the end of March, Birmingham’s council newsletter reported on the completion of 251 ‘quality’ homes in Erdington. There is a mixture of social housing and houses for sale, for a range of family sizes – from one to five bedroom properties.  The income gained from houses sold from this latest development will be reinvested into the council’s housing stock of social housing. News of other social and affordable new housing in the city may be read here. Today we are reminded that a four year programme has been set up to enlist smaller housebuilders to use smaller plots of land.

Birmingham City Council won Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards in 2016. This highlighted the work of the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT, currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands with projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. In 2015, BMHT also won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment (See architect Joe Holyoak’s article – one photo above.).

BMHT celebrated the completion of its 2,000 home milestone in March – a culmination of 1,125 homes built for rent and almost 900 built for sale since the council launched the BMHT programme.  The council plans to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020 in order to close the city’s housing gap.


Birmingham has been named the most entrepreneurial city in the UK for four successive years – with more start-up businesses than anywhere outside of London. Data released by StartUp Britain shows that 17,473 new businesses were registered in Birmingham during 2016, an increase of 25% on the previous year. There are almost 114,000 self-employed people in Greater Birmingham and Solihull, according to the Office for National Statistics. It also won an award for business support

The leader of Birmingham Council, Cllr John Clancy, said: “Birmingham, known for years as the city of a thousand trades, remains a vibrant centre for entrepreneurs who are prepared to work hard, strike out on their own, and get businesses off the ground. 

There was an outcry when the Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled a National Insurance hike for self-employed workers in the Budget – now postponed. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.

Cllr Clancy called on Mrs May immediately to overrule Chancellor Philip Hammond and rule out any increases in Class 4 NIC payments. He said the proposal would hit those who took risks to set up small businesses and create jobs.

Well-informed readers explain that – as long as the self-employed have a contribution record established – they get the standard state retirement pension and older self-employed workers attaining pension age today have, in many cases, some pension accrued as employees for a number of years of their life which the present generation will not have. Benefits the self-employed cannot access relate to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has announced that Labour is to convene a summit to develop a new deal for self-employed workers and small businesses and develop Labour’s policy on self-employment. – recognising “that the world of work itself is changing”.





Received: news about an invitation to an open meeting on March 27th 5.30pm in Colmore Row. This updates information about the Attwood award on this site. The news included this dialogue box:


Browsing the website as invited we learn that there will be ‘an opportunity to  collectively identify how to progress the Birmingham Pound after hearing about the inspiration for and potential of the project and the nuts and bolts of how the currency could be run’.

The meeting will then be opened to discussion, with questions, comments and hopefully agreement on whether the Birmingham Pound goes ahead.

This will involve agreeing on what model is used and who can commit to taking it forward. It will only go ahead if there is a robust way of making it self-sufficient and that it will be effective in its aims of making an inclusive, equitable and diverse Birmingham economy.

Book your place here.




“Banks have been bailed out by taxpayers and the state continues to shower enormous gifts upon them”, thunders Professor Prem Sikka. “Despite this banks show no sense of social responsibility and continue to close local branches, leaving many without adequate financial services”.

The rate of branch closures accelerates and over the past five years more than 430 communities have lost their last bank.

Recently a reader saw a local butcher unable to make a sale because he hadn’t enough change to give his customer. He explained that two Lloyds Bank branches nearby by had closed, and now the nearest one – two miles away – had closed.


Lloyds Lewes branch now closed

She remembered that the Post Office had offered routine services to the customers of Santander and the Co-op for some years but was not able to tell the butcher that this extended to his bank.

As he does not use a computer she searched on his behalf and found out that, during the days of a slightly kinder coalition government, the impact of these closures was mitigated when a deal was co-ordinated by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable.

In 2015, reportedly under Government pressure, the country’s major high street banks signed a pact  that allowed all their personal customers  and businesses with fewer than 50 employees access their banks at their local post office – putting the 11,500-strong Post Office network at the heart of local communities.

This move meant that bank customers are able to put cash and cheques into current accounts, check on balances and withdraw cash.

As this relatively young man had no idea these services existed and did not appear to know how to access information, one wonders how many small traders are struggling with cash transactions because they don’t realise that there are still some services available – unless of course further post office closures take place.




john-clancy-3A search on this website will bring news that – as well as looking further afield – our relatively new council leader is caring for those in most need – not only in the housing sector but in education and social welfare.

For more information see the Newsroom site:

The council is joining forces with the Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART) and the ThinCats Community Chest peer lending platform to assist start-up firms and social enterprises from the poorest parts of Birmingham that find it difficult to obtain loans from high street banks. ART and the city council will jointly underwrite loans of between £10,000 and £150,000.

Based at Innovation Campus, Birmingham, ART has lent over £20 million since its launch, helping small firms to grow and creating thousands of jobs. Loans are available for any purpose including supporting cash-flow. One of ART’s best known beneficiaries is Birmingham Michelin-star chef Glynn Purnell who took out a loan to open his first restaurant.


The writer declares an interest as a founder share-holder. She watched Pat Conaty (receiving award, first left) then working at the B’ham Settlement), gradually convince people, notably Sir Adrian Cadbury, that a reinvestment trust, such as those Pat had seen working in America, could be set up. After years of painstaking effort it was launched, headed by Steve Walker who has worked ever since to promote its success.

Two sister sites carry references to ART’s work and one focussed on it in 2011, ‘The Aston Reinvestment Trust: helping small and medium businesses’. It is also featured in the services section of a website set up to focus on SME manufacturing in and near Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy is appealing to Brummies to support a fund-raising scheme that could generate £3 million to help small businesses get off the ground:

“This is a pioneering local investment opportunity and a chance for people to not only get a financial incentive in the form of a tax relief, but also a social return.  Small and medium sized enterprises are the life blood of the local economy and their ability to grow, create inclusive economic growth and preserve jobs impacts on everyone who lives and works in Birmingham.”

For details of the investment process go to

Or directly to





The Attwood Awards were inaugurated by Sir Adrian Cadbury and economist James Robertson in 2002. They celebrate work done in this country to further any of the three aims of the city’s first MP, Thomas Attwood. Seven of the fourteen recipients came from the West Midlands: brief summaries of all 14 may be seen here.  

Ridhi Kalaria (Ort Gallery) received the 15th award last week at a meeting of the West Midlands New Economics Group in The Warehouse, Digbeth. She has been working in her spare time to set up a local currency. One of several advantages is its potential to enable and encourage local businesses to source locally wherever possible, shortening the supply chain, strengthening local economies and furthering the common good.

ridhi-videoTo see the video, click here

As Bev Hurley, CBE, CEO of YTKO says: ‘Smaller businesses remain engines for growth, creating 60% of all private sector jobs and £1.6 trillion of revenue . . . The success of a small business doesn’t only impact its owners; it has a ripple effect throughout the local economy. The whole point is if we can make [small business owners] more resilient and grow, and improve their profits and turnover, they will take on new people and create new jobs”.

Many awardees have lived further afield, but recent local recipients include:

2010: Birmingham Energy Savers: innovative Birmingham Energy Savers scheme

2013: Architect and urban designer Joe Holyoak:

2014: Karen Leach, Localise West Midlands:

2017?  Possibly a celebration of WM hydrogen transport pioneers


AEIP-national-tour-map-v2MP Caroline Lucas, one of the speakers at the cross-party Birmingham rally which filled the large meeting house and both galleries, said:

“Like Westminster, EU institutions are not perfect. The EU must become more democratic, and more accountable to the citizens of Europe.

“But to secure these changes, we need to stay in the EU and fight for meaningful reform. Another Europe is Possible – but only if we make it so.”

Another supporter, Nick Matthews (right) from Coventry University’s Business School, chairman of West Midlands Co-operative Council and Co-operatives UK, has expressed AEIP’s belief that progressives throughout the continent can and will, given time, change the political and economic deficits at the heart of the Union. It is summarised below.

nick-matthews2In his last book of essays titled Inventing the Enemy Umberto Eco implies that every country, every people need an external enemy to unite them and give them a sense of who they are by defining who they are not. For me this is particularly relevant to the EU which for some people is the omnipotent other that controls their lives from afar. To which we can attribute everything we do not like about our lives.

This is a fantasy possible because the real problem with the EU is its weakness not its strength. Most people give up trying to understand what it actually does and how it actually works because of the EU’s secret weapon — it is boring.

When I was younger I worked for five years as a research assistant for a Euro-MP. I sadly understand all the institutions and most of the treaties and know my way around the European infrastructure.

There is no doubt that the EU has many flaws. The most important of course being its anti-democratic nature and a structure which enables multinational capital to run rings around democratic governments and is, probably, driving the split in the Tory party over domestic/national capital.

For me any conceivable position outside the EU is worse than the one we currently occupy. The Norwegian and Swiss options leave us in the single market and in Schengen with no voice on any of the rules and regulations.

In some ways the EU has been a modernising force in British politics, bringing us regulations and directives that have had a direct impact upon the free movement of workers and inequality between men and women. The main benefit of these measures is that they can combat certain forms of discrimination — while of course trying to make the labour market as competitive as possible.

The European tragedy, however, is the overall neoliberal economic policy which has greatly contributed to its current malaise, which has been replicated in spades here in Britain.

For me the economics makes little difference — in or out — without a significant change in policy. The issue then comes down to politics. There is no doubt for me that Brexit leads to Boris Johnson as prime minister and his vision of a deregulated free-market Britain and a triumph for Nigel Farage on a tidal wave of xenophobia.

At a time when all my friends in Europe want us to stay and work with them to reform the EU and help tackle the devastating crisis of migration, which I feel Britain is partly responsible for, leaving feels like an act of betrayal. That is why I am joining John McDonnell and his demand for a Europe of solidarity, workers’ rights and environmental justice in supporting Another Europe is Possible.

Utopian? Possibly, but less unattractive than the alternative of blaming the EU for all our problems when we are the EU. Of blaming it when we should be blaming ourselves for policies our own government supported but kept quiet about.

The real challenge for us “remainers,” however, is to admit the future we seek is a federal democratic Europe one which allows small nations to flourish, welcomes Scotland and Catalonia and sees an end to the fantasy of London as an imperial capital. I reject the binary choice of Brussels business as usual or a retreat into nationalism. We need to bring transparency to the EU’s current institutions and to build towards a new constitution creating a genuine European democracy with a sovereign parliament.

I am a European.

Read his article in full here.




co-op event 1

Co-operatives West Midlands are pleased to announce are pleased to announce that bookings are now open for their Spring networking event, 5pm-7pm on 18 May 2016, at Anthony Collins Solicitors in Central Birmingham: 134 Edmund Street, Birmingham, B3 2ES.

Ridhi Kalaria of Birmingham Pound campaign confirmed as speaker at the Cooperatives Spring networking event – 18 May

co-op event ridhi

Ridhi Kalaria, from the Birmingham Pound campaign, will be joining us as guest speaker at our Spring networking event. Ridhi is a community researcher whose mission is to build positive social movements and create a sustainable impact.

As a member of the Birmingham Pound steering group, she is central to efforts to establish a local currency that will strengthen the local economy. Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands said that Ridhi is “a huge asset to the group. She thinks strategically and with clarity and insight, is creative and fun to work with, communicates well with very different audiences, and has got a lot done in a short space of time.”

This is your chance to find out more about local currencies and to discuss how they might work to strengthen the cooperative economy.

There will be facilitated and informal networking, a light buffet, a short talk by Peter Couchman of the Plunkett Foundation on why some co-operatives fail, a workshop on Co-operatives and Local Currencies, stalls, and more networking.

There is a small charge of £5 to cover catering and to deter no-shows. Bursary places are available for members of start-up cooperatives, or those on low incomes who are looking at setting up a co-operative.

You can now book a stall at the Networking event. Please click here for the exhibitors’ brochure and click here to book:



This information-packed event was attended by people from many parts of the country; a Tewkesbury member remembered the Birmingham canals from the time when, as a young man, he worked on barges carrying dates and tomato puree to the HP Sauce factory.

cboa 2 header

The  Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) is a trade organisation which aims to sustain and increase freight carriage on our waterways. Advantages are economies of scale and fuel efficiency, decongested roads, fewer fatalities and injuries and higher energy efficiency, producing less air pollution with lower emissions.

Large loads are taken off the roads: from aggregates down the Severn, grain down the Mersey, coal down the Calder and sludge and biomass along the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

CRT news reports that last June a 270 tonne electricity transformer (weighing as much as 18 doubledecker buses) was delivered to Hull and transported on the River Trent to Staythorpe Power Station. It was loaded onto the Inland Navigator, a specially converted river barge owned and operated by Robert Wynn & Sons, which can carry single piece loads of up to 300 tonnes on the inland waterway network to cities such as Leeds, Nottingham, York and Worcester. If the transformer had not been carried on the river, it would have faced an 85 mile journey by road.

270 tonne section transformerThis photograph shows a 270 tonne section of a transformer taken by road from the River Ribble at Penwortham Bridge to a substation only a mile away.


Humber Barges report that the Freight Transport Association, Canal & River Trust (which now has a water borne freight policy) and CBOA held a conference in Wakefield in November. A Freight Advisory Group set up has recommended that three of the Trust’s north eastern waterways, the Aire & Calder Navigation, the South Yorkshire Navigation and the River Ouse, be designated as Priority Freight Routes.  A steering group has been asked to work with the port industry, shippers, barge operators and planners and take forward the concept of an inland terminal or port in Leeds for handling marine aggregate, waste, general cargoes, and possibly containers. A steering group has been set up to take the project forward.

Leeds City Council proposes to safeguard certain canal wharves on the Aire and Calder navigation for freight use and to earmark waterside land for industrial use. CRT supports Leeds City Council in its efforts to get these wharves protected from unsuitable development, following London’s example.

exol humber princess

Exol Lubricants makes effective use of the waterways and canal networks, regularly transporting 500 tonnes of raw material – equal to more than 20 road tanker deliveries – from Hull docks to its bulk blending plant in Rotherham. It appeared on ITV’s programme Barging Round Britain with John Sergeant who joined the Exol team on the Humber Princess (above, approximately 200 feet long), led by Skipper Duane Ball, and travelled along the river Humber before disembarking at Goole.

urban transport2 header

Centro (West Midlands) is a member of the Urban Transport Group which brings together and promotes the interests of Britain’s largest urban areas on transport. Other full members are Merseytravel (Merseyside), North East Combined Authority, South Yorkshire PTE (Sheffield City Region), Transport for Greater Manchester, Transport for London, West Yorkshire Combined Authority.  Associate members are Bristol and the West of England Partnership, Nottingham City Council and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

The Passenger Transport Executive Group’s latest report highlights the essential role of urban freight in ensuring the effective functioning of the UK economy and presents a fresh vision designed to safeguard this role, as well as protect the environment and quality of life for communities. It can be downloaded here.

The emphasis is on freight making its way to urban areas by rail or water, either directly into those areas, or into the major distribution parks that serve them. The report argues that those distribution sites should be located so that it is practical for goods to travel the last mile(s) into urban centres using zero/low emission modes.

Further news from CBOA and CRT, including a proposal for a new canal across the Pennines, floating depots and Belgium’s Blue Line Logistics’ move to using hydrogen fuel, will be posted next week on an environment and innovation site.

Membership of the CBOA is open to companies, organisations and individuals who support its aims. Contact the secretary Keith Astley