Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

TBG Learning strengthens partnership with leading conference venue

New Alexandra House team member Charlie Barnett with general manager Ray McKibben, Nikki Webb, recruitment resourcer at TBG Learning, and HR officer Emma CumminsA leading Wiltshire hotel and conference venue has strengthened its team, along with its links with a Swindon training provider.

Alexandra House, which is set in 20 acres of grounds on the outskirts of Swindon and is part of the Principal Hayley group, has welcomed Charlie Barnett to its reception team after turning to leading training and recruitment organisation TBG Learning for support.

The 23-year-old, from Liden, was referred to TBG Learning at Minton Place on Station Road by Job Centre Plus after a short period out of work and within days of being introduced, she was behind the check-in desk at the Wroughton venue.

TBG Learning is delivering the Government’s Work Programme on behalf of Rehab JobFit which helps the long-term unemployed into work through a tailored package of support and assistance.

Alexandra House Human Resources Officer Emma Cummins said TBG Learning has also helped the venue to recruit casual staff in the past.

“When we have new positions available I get in touch with Helen Saunders from TBG Learning as she knows us very well and how strongly we value customer service and she put us in touch with great candidates,” she said.

“Helen also made us aware of the Government’s Wage Incentive Scheme and how we could make a claim for recruiting Charlie, which was really helpful.
“Charlie has settled in extremely well and we’re delighted she’s now part of our fantastic team here.”

Charlie added: “Alexandra House is a really nice place to work and I’m really enjoying the job.

“After enrolling with TBG Learning they gave me a bit of advice and it wasn’t long after that when they put me in touch with Emma and I was back in work.”

Helen Saunders, from TBG Learning Swindon, said advisors work closely with employers to identify opportunities like the Wage Incentive Scheme which can benefit businesses.

“The Wage Incentive Scheme has been launched to incentivise the employment of 18 to 24-year-olds who are disadvantaged, disabled or live in designated unemployment hot spots,” she said.

“It is one of a number of support avenues which employers can take advantage of and we work closely with businesses to make them aware of opportunities that available.

“Alexandra House is a fantastic venue and we’re pleased to have built-up a good relationship with Emma and that Charlie has settled in well at the hotel.” 

Hills Group backs best kept villages competition

Mike Hill chief executive Hills Group and John Blake secretary of CPRE Wiltshire shake on the dealMarlborough-based The Hills Group has announced its sponsorship of the Council for the Protection of Rural England´s Wiltshire Best Kept Village competition for 2013.
The competition is open to all 234 villages in Wiltshire.  It is judged in three categories – small villages with populations between 1 to 300 residents; medium villages with populations between 301 to 1,000 residents and large villages with populations between 1,001 to 3,500 residents.
There are prizes for the first, second and third village in each category and judging takes place in two rounds.  Last year’s winners were:  large village – Hilperton; medium village – Dinton and small village - Great Hinton.
Mike Hill, chief executive of The Hills Group, said:  “Ours is very much a Wiltshire business and through our support we are able to give back to the areas in which we operate.  The competition encourages villages to work together and it’s a good opportunity to build a stronger community.”   
John Blake, secretary of CPRE Wiltshire said:  “CPRE Wiltshire is delighted that Hills Group are sponsoring the Hills Group Wiltshire CPRE Best Kept Village Competition, now in its 55th year.

“All villages are invited to enter and in doing so they foster pride and caring for their village and its people. This they can demonstrate at the winners’ ceremony on 6th October when they collect their prizes awarded by Wiltshire’s Lord Lieutenant, President of CPRE Wiltshire.”
The closing date for entries into the competition is Friday, April 26 and more information can be obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   or www.cprewiltshire.org.uk

Swindon's steam trains may hold secret to Britain's economic future

John Rubidge of UK Trade & IndustryExports expert John Rubidge stood in front of a steam engine – the Caerphilly Castle – this week and asked seminar delegates to imagine a time when Britain straddled the globe like an industrial behemoth.

“Wouldn´t it be fantastic,” he asked, “to have this kind of innovation resurging throughout Britain?”

Mr Rubidge, from UK Trade & Industry, was at the Business Show Swindon – held at STEAM, a venue built to celebrate the town´s industrial heritage – to talk about Why Your Business Needs to Go Global.

He chose examples from around the South West to demonstrate how local businesses can become global players.

He explained how Clark´s shoes became as coveted as Jimmy Choo in China, where they sell for three times their British ticket price, and reminded delegates how the West´s aerospace industry still rules the air.

But there was hope for small businesses too, he said. Cuddledry – a hooded towel for drying bathed babies - was conceived by two West mums, who are now trading in 40 countries, while Green Gourmet invented the mechanism that allows airlines to serve French fries on a plane.

Mr Rubidge said British industry was too hung up on exporting to the USA and Europe, both of whom are experiencing slow economic growth.

“We export more to Ireland, with a population of 4.5 million people, than we do to the BRIC countries – Brazil, China, India and Russia,” he said. “But it is those BRIC countries, with a combined population of three billion, that are experiencing the economic growth.

“China´s economy is set to grow by nine percent between 2010 and 2015. Half a billion people there have access to the internet. Its middle class will grow from 178 million to 314 million within the next five years.

“The world is very rapidly changing.”

Charlie Wade of VodafoneBut the world isn´t just changing thousands of miles away – it´s happening on our doorstep too, according to Charlie Wade of Vodafone, who talked about the way his company had restructured to embrace the very technology it was selling to consumers.

Much of the content was familiar to delegates who attended the recent Swindon Technology and Innovation Forum (read about it here).

But Mr Wade was also keen to talk about the way in which customer patience was declining – and how the company had embraced social media to help them cope with the demand for attention and answers.

“We asked 700 businesses with an average of 98 employees, if you put an enquiry in to a business, how long would you expect to wait for a response?

“Two years ago it was seven hours. Now it´s two hours. And for Generation Y – the tech savvy customers born after 1982 – its 30 minutes.

“We couldn´t hire enough people to deal with queries on that basis,” said Mr Wade, “so we´ve embraced social media. Now, every week, 400,000 queries are solved by our own customers through our social media channels.”

Luan WiseWith an answer like that, it´s a good job marketing consultant Luan Wise had asked the question What´s The Point of Social Media? earlier in the day.

Luan insisted “We don´t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.

“It´s about targeting the right person with the right message at the right time in the right way,” she said.

Luan showed her audience some social media #fails before jogging through the secrets to a successful social media campaign, from getting more followers to talking to them at the right time of day (before breakfast and after dinner on Twitter, during the late evening for Facebook).  

  • The event was organised by Business West and sponsored by Excalibur.

Solicitors put their best feet forward for charity

Heather Lawton, Richard Bebb, Jonathan Shipton, Alan Wilson, Emily Knight (Dorothy House Hospice Care), Ross Phillips, Debbie Allen and Lucy WilsonWiltshire solicitors put their best feet forward at in the Bath Half Marathon recently, and raised £2,000 for Dorothy House Hospice Care.

It was the first year Goughs Solicitors has competed in the Bath Half Corporate Challenge - a 13.1 mile half marathon through one of the most popular city centre road races in the UK, and one of the largest charity fundraising events in the South West.

Goughs put together a team of nine runners, including Ross Phillips, Richard Bebb, Jonathan Shipton, Lucy Wilson, Heather Lawton, Nikki Capp and Debbie Allen.

Richard Bebb, team captain and partner in the firm’s family department at their Melksham office, said: “Dorothy House provide an invaluable service to a wide range of people throughout Wiltshire and beyond, and we are proud to be running for such a worthwhile cause.”

Dorothy House provides physical, psychological, social and spiritual care, free of charge to patients and their families who are facing life threatening illness, death or bereavement and have specific problems which need the charity’s specialist skills.

Trainee solicitor Ross Phillips said: “Being part of such a wonderful race alongside thousands of other runners, all being encouraged along by the crowds, was amazing and well worth the blisters. I’m sure it won’t be long before the next Goughs team challenge.”

It´s not too late to sponsor the solicitors, and to help raise funds for Dorothy House. Log on to www.justgiving.com/GoughsSolicitors1 to make a donation.

Chamber discusses implications of Budget

Devizes ChamberDevizes Chamber members will be discussing the implications of the today´s Budget for their businesses with Steve Little, a tax expert from Charlton Baker, on Tuesday, March 26.

The event will be held at The Bear Hotel from 7.30am to 9am. Attendance costs £13 for members and £16 for non-members, £1 of which will be donated to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust.

For booking details log on to www.wessexchambers.org.uk/events

High Street to become virtual art gallery

Marlborough High Street will be turned into a virtual art gallery this summer, as 40 artists display their work in shop windows as part of the Marlborough Open Studios.

The Windows on Art scheme runs concurrently with Open Studios, where local artists throw open their doors to meet art lovers and sell their work.

Open Studios will be held on Saturdays and Sundays June 29 and 30, July 67 and 7, 13 and 14, and 20 and 21. For more information log on to www.marlboroughopenstudios.com

Zombies, cartels and superpowers dominate Chamber event

Guest speakers David Patterson, Michael Shawyer, Paul Maddison, Ian Piper and Les Durrant with Rosemary Wells head of political and coporate engagement at Thames Valley Chamber of CommerceZombies, cartels and the rise of a new superpower: not the plot of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but some highlights from the Swindon Business Leaders Forum.

The Swindon Chamber of Commerce event, which was held at Alexandra House in Wroughton last Friday, promised managers from some of the town´s largest employers bags of local, legal and financial intelligence.

Kicking off proceedings, Paul Maddison of HSBC bank reminded delegates of the real risk of a triple dip recession. “We´re not in a good space in the UK,” he said.

The answer, he reckoned, was to get exporting, but not to the struggling economies of Europe, where 45 percent of our export business is done, or even to the US, which accounts for 17 percent of our foreign trade.

“Growth is forecast for the emerging BRIC economies – Brazil, India, China, Russia. We should be thinking about those markets.”

Michael Shawyer of MonahansWhile the banker saw opportunities in the East, Michael Shawyer of Monahans saw zombies on the horizon: 160,000 of them.

Zombies, he explained, are indebted companies that are able to repay the interest on their debts, but not reduce their debts.

The accountant explained that the banks and HMRC were “going softly on companies in trouble” to stop firms slipping into administration.

“We can still get deals from HMRC, and creditors are taking a realistic view, but a lot of companies are just clinging on,” he warned.

However, Swindon was far from swarming with zombies, and the county´s record for business survival is pretty good, said the accountant. Wiltshire is ranked 10th out of 36 counties for business survival, while 62 percent of new businesses in the county make it through their first three years.

For David Patterson, a partner at Thrings, a legal threat to businesses is new legislation concerning anti-competitive pricing.

Business leaders were warned not to disclose prices, bids or contracts with others in their industry, for fear of falling foul of anti-cartel legislation like The Competition Act.

He said that the Office of fair Trading had recently fined six recruitment companies a total of £39 million for price fixing, and warned delegates: “If you are a member of a trade organisation, ensure you know what´s permitted under competition laws.

“You can be fined individually or face imprisonment for being involved in a cartel,” he said.

Ian Piper of Forward SwindonIan Piper, of Forward Swindon, outlined the work of the organisation in “putting Swindon on the map,” by attracting inward investment to the town and looking after the businesses already here.

He explained that an initiative to encourage Swindon Borough Council managers to visit the top 100 businesses in the town had fostered a greater understanding between local government and the business world, and in some cases brought down barriers to growth, especially in the planning arena.

Mr Piper was also keen to talk about regeneration, reminding delegates that the Planning Swindon Together document, as master plan for the area with cross-party support, goes before the borough council next week (March 20).

Meanwhile, he was keen to talk up successes like the Union Square development – one of the biggest commercial development projects in the UK – which will transform the town centre and accommodate 3,000 new jobs.

And he welcomed the development of Regent Circus, the former college site. “It was a symbol of lack of progress,” he said. “I sensed a lot of optimism when that building came down.” A new cinema and restaurants will soon take its place.

Les DurrantAnother important document was the topic of the final presentation by planning expert Les Durrant, author of the business representation to the Swindon Borough Local Development Framework by Swindon Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with GWE Business West, Wessex Chambers, the FSB and the CBI.

The planning consultant said the council´s 2011 core strategy had been a concern to the business community, as it was based on a low growth scenario.

The Local Development Framework, which will guide planning policy until 2026, was broadly welcomed by the business community, said Mr Durrant, but there were still reservations, including concerns over housing levels which will fuel economic growth, and the underestimation of employment land requirement.

One of the biggest problems was a lack of co-operation between Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council. “The best opportunities for development lie to the west, along the M4 and beyond Swindon Borough,” said Mr Durrant. “These cross-boundary issues will not go away.”

The next Swindon Chamber of Commerce event is the business breakfast on Thursday, April 11 at the County Ground, when Jane Bromley of Strategenic Ltd will be talking about mastering the techniques to attract and retain a flock of customers.

For booking details log on to www.thamesvalleychamber.co.uk/event/44774