News

London-based telecoms firm Connect Managed Services has merged with firms G3 Comms in a bid to create one of the UK’s largest unified communications service providers.
 
Advised by global investment bank GCA Altium, G3 Comms’ parent company Apiary Capital has merged with the Connect in an effort to unify their respective services.
 
Headquartered in London, Connect Managed Services specialises in customer experience, unified communications and digital transformation provider for global enterprises, with partners including firms like Genesys, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Avaya and Cisco.
 
The merger, which will see the firms combine their revenues totalling over £55m, aims to create a platform of significant scale both in the UK and overseas.
 
Commenting on the deal, James Craven, managing director at GCA Altium, said: “We greatly enjoyed working with Apiary to create a new, exciting business of scale in this growing market.
 
“We continue to see the unified comms sector as an attractive market for investment which remains ripe for consolidation.
 
“This merger brings together two businesses with highly complementary capabilities and has created one of the UK’s largest customer experience and unified comms specialists.”
Sauces and condiments maker Stokes has doubled its capacity and launched new recyclable packaging after securing a £450,000 funding package from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.
 
The company which makes condiments including ketchup, chutney and jam for major brands in more than 50 countries worldwide, including Waitrose and Sainsbury's in the UK, has extended its existing production line to meet growing demand.
 
It has also expanded its existing product range with a new line of recyclable 'squeezy' bottles and introduced a new reduced sugar variant.
 
As well as extending its manufacturing facility, the Suffolk-based sauce business which makes more than 15% of its sales overseas, has invested in new machinery including a steam cooking system, labelling machine and a capping machine.
 
The six-figure funding package from Lloyds will also help Stokes create ten jobs over the next 12 months, and increase its annual turnover by 25% to £8.75m.
 
"With the financing options provided by Lloyds Bank, we had the financial backing we needed to be able to invest in the specialist machines as quickly as possible, which has in turn given us a solid platform for growth over the next twelve months," said Stokes Sauces commercial finance director Chris Reeves.
 
Jonathan Hirst, relationship manager at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, added: "The business has a track record of strong growth and we look forward to helping it on the next phase of its expansion plans."
Freedom Travel Group has confirmed Matt Harding as head of the Thomas Cook-owned agents' consoritum and at the same time it has made three new appointments and created a new position in its commercial team.
 
Harding was previously interim head of the Freedom Travel Group since last October while previous head of Freedom, Kelly Cookes, was on maternity leave.
 
Cookes will take over as head of Thomas Cook commercial partnerships and sales planning when she returns to work next month.
 
To increase focus on marketing, Vikki Groves has joined Freedom as marketing manager from the Thomas Cook cruise team. Prior to this she was at Holland America Line Cruises for six years and before that, held a number of roles where she supported independent travel agents.
 
Harding said: "I am thrilled that we have expanded our team with these great new appointments. After being with Freedom for over two years I have a good understanding of our membership and by expanding our team in this way, we can give even more focus to delivering the best service possible for our members and homeworkers as we continue to grow our business."
#techmums, the technology skills social enterprise, is calling for greater focus on digital skills education for mums and for more investment to fight digital illiteracy, as a new study shows that it negatively impacts their mental health and their ability to support their families.
 
One in five (19%) mums say they lack the digital skills to protect their children from online bullying, according to new research by #techmums. Mothers also feel they do not have the relevant digital skills to stop cyber bullying of their children, with 19% saying they lack the digital expertise to prevent bullying.
 
Almost a quarter of UK mums (22%) believe that limited tech skills negatively affects their mental health. One in five mothers reported a lack of digital literacy had limited their ability to return to the workforce (18%) or join the workforce for the first time (19%).
 
The research, which is supported by the financial services firm Capital One UK, reveals there is a strong belief that better digital skills would have a positive impact on the lives of mothers and their families: half (48%) of parents believe more digital knowledge would help them keep their children safe online. Over a third of parents (34%) say improved digital skills would improve their mental health, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
 
More than one in four (45%) mums say if their digital literacy skills were improved they could better support their children with their homework. In addition, 38% said better digital capability would improve their confidence, with 31% saying it would help them return to the workforce and 32% to join the workforce for the first time.
 
#techmums, the organisation founded by Professor Sue Black OBE in 2012, to support mums’ access to tech education, commissioned the research to gain a picture of the impact that digital illiteracy has on the lifestyles of mums across the UK, and their ability to support their children.
 
Digital illiteracy is reported to affect 12.6m people across the UK, meaning they lack basic digital skills such as knowing how to use a search engine, set up an online account, or use social media. #techmums runs initiatives designed to support mothers becoming more familiar, confident, and excited about the use of technology in their personal, professional, and parenting lives.
 
Lauren Allison, CEO of #techmums, said: “At #techmums, we recognise that when you ignite potential in a mother, you also have a knock-on positive effect in the lives of her children, her wider family, and in our society. So much of our daily lives is being revolutionised by technology – from how we talk to each other and get important information to how we bank and book essential services. It is crucial that we all have the skills to interact with technology in a way that enhances our lives. While these statistics are, sadly, not surprising, it underscores the need for us all to work harder in addressing the digital skills gap, particularly for mums.”
 
Professor Sue Black OBE, said: “I founded #techmums in response to the challenges mums were having in becoming confident with technology. As a mum whose life was radically changed and improved by technology, I know how important it is for us to show mums what opportunities lie out there for them, and by extension, their kids and wider families, as technology continues to rapidly change. This research highlights that, seven years on from my initial #techmums program, there is still a long way for us to go and if we want to truly address the digital skills gap, one of the most effective ways we can do that is by equipping mums with digital literacy. We need to see more awareness raising and investment in this area.”
 
The independent research was funded by Capital One UK, which is supporting #techmums to raise awareness of the need for greater digital inclusion, particularly for people from underprivileged communities.
 
Rob Harding, Chief Operations and Technology Officer for Capital One UK said, “We are proud to support #techmums in their efforts to improve digital access for hard to reach groups across the UK. Digital skills are a vital component of modern life and digital inclusion is a key focus area for us as a business.”
Home owners are now moving slightly more often than they were previously, according to Zoopla estimates.
 
Analysis by the portal – based on comparing Land Registry and Registers of Scotland data for 2018 and ONS estimates on property tenure – claims the average turnover for a property is 20.8 years.
 
In contrast, research by Zoopla in 2017 found people moved home every 23 years, which it said was up from every 8.33 years in the 1980s.
 
The latest figures show Kensington and Chelsea have the lowest estimated turnover rate at 35.5 years on average, while the most frequent movers are in Dartford and south Derbyshire at 15 years.
 
Regionally, those in the east midlands are the most frequent movers, Zoopla said, changing properties on average every 17.9 years, followed by home owners in Scotland who tend to move every 18.7 years.
 
Meanwhile, those living in London tend to move the least, on average at every 26.2 years.
 
Laura Howard, spokesperson for Zoopla, said: “These results contradict a common assumption that UK neighbourhoods are becoming more transient.
 
“But house prices have risen exponentially in the last two decades and many people are unwilling or unable to take on the cost of the ‘next rung up’.
 
“For agents the often-lengthy spells between home owners moving underlines the importance of building a strong and enduring reputation in the community – for example, having excellent knowledge of the local property market and being reliable and transparent.”

                Region                                 Turnover in years between moves
1              East Midlands                    17.9
2              Scotland                              18.7
3              South West                         19.5
4              West Midlands                   20.5
5              Yorkshire
and the Humber                 20.6
 
6              North West                          20.6
7              East of England                  21
8              North East                            21
9              Wales                                    22.2
10           South East                            25.4
11           London                                  26.2
               Great Britain                          20.8
UK and Ireland based DIY retailer Homebase has appointed Atomic London as its lead creative agency after running a two-month pitch process to find a new creative partner.   
 
The appointment of Atomic signals a new marketing approach for the retailer as it continues to implement with its turnaround plan.
 
“Homebase is a much loved brand and we’re thrilled to be part of the team to turn the business around and put it back on a growth trajectory.” explains Jon Goulding, CEO, Atomic London. 
 
 Atomic won the account following a competitive pitch and follows the appointment of Havas Media earlier in the year.
 
Retail marketing manager, Grainne Arnold said: “Atomic’s appointment comes as we seek to build an exciting future for the Homebase brand and store experience. Atomic’s creative platform and ideas combined with their passion for the brand is exactly what the business needs to help us on this journey.”
Dublin-based C&C is planning to move the Magners cider maker’s listing to the London Stock Exchange, hailing the capital for its “deep pool” of investors.
 
The London and Dublin dual-listed firm, which is also behind Tennent’s lager, will seek inclusion in the FTSE 250 index and delist from Euronext Dublin.
 
C&C’s boss Stephen Glancey said: “We think this will give us much more potential to attract new shareholders. There is a deep pool of investors looking for more opportunities, and we will get wider analyst coverage in London.”
 
Around 40% of current shareholders are in the UK, many of whom would find a sole London listing easier once the UK leaves the EU, Glancey said.
 
A large share of sales and profits are generated in the UK following C&C’s acquisition of wholesalers Matthew Clark and Bibendum last year.
 
The company will keep its head office in Ireland.
Flexible workspace provider BizSpace, which last month reported double-digit increases in sales, new prospects and website traffic, has acquired two new properties in Kent for a total sum of £4.15m.

Kestrel House and Knightrider House in Maidstone were acquired by the company last week and BizSpace commercial director Emma Long believes the low cost of entry for small businesses and the suitability of its spaces makes the company an "attractive proposition".
 
"Our customers tell us they want flexibility, the opportunity to grow and a supportive business community to operate in. We're delivering all of this."
 
Located close to the town centre, the two properties provide a total of 21,500 sq ft of office space, of which 5,500 sq ft is currently let.
 
BizSpace plans to invest £1.1m in a refurbishment of the remaining space over the next four months and is looking to attract micro-businesses, freelancers, entrepreneurs and SMEs.
 
Knightrider House is a grade II-listed period building set out across basement, ground and two upper storeys, with parking for 22 cars. Kestrel House is a modern, four-storey office building with a 68-space car park.
 
Long said: “With a strategic location in central Kent and excellent connectivity to London, as well as regional and European markets, it’s no surprise that more than 7,000 businesses have chosen to call Maidstone home.
 
"With great workspace and an understanding of what’s important to start-ups, we look forward to launching our new centre here, providing a hub for Maidstone's small business community and helping Kent's entrepreneurs and SMEs to thrive."

HSBC UK Commercial Bank is supporting British companies to meet their environmental and sustainability goals with the launch of a new green finance proposition.
 
The new range – available for small to medium enterprises (SME) through to large corporates – includes a Green Loan, a UK industry first Green Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) and a Green Hire Purchase, Lease and Asset loan.
 
Amanda Murphy, HSBC UK Head of Commercial Banking said, “With the Government committing the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, sustainability is increasingly important for companies of all sizes. We can now support their aspirations through our comprehensive Green lending proposition, which supports businesses as they pursue sustainable and environmentally focused activities.”
 
The range includes:
 
Green Loans
 
Following a pilot launch to larger corporates last year1, HSBC UK has broadened its Green Loan proposition to SMEs and mid-market companies wanting to secure loans for sustainable activities. The minimum Green Loan starts at £300,000, enabling a broad range of companies to access finance to support sustainability projects.
 
Green RCF
 
The UK industry first Green RCF enables companies to access funds when required, depending on sustainable cash flow needs, and is available for a minimum loan value of £1m. Customers can adopt HSBC UK’s Green Framework2 to manage their green cash flows and meet the four pillars of the Green Loan Principles3.
 
Green Hire Purchase, Lease and Asset loan
 
The Green Hire Purchase, Lease and Asset loan product facilitates the financing of green assets through hire purchase, lease and asset loan.
 
HSBC UK has aligned its Green Lending offering to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles3, which aims to create market standards and guidelines, providing a consistent methodology for use across the wholesale green loan market.
 
Murphy said, “HSBC UK was the first bank to have a specific offering aligned to the Green Loan Principles and we’ve become the first bank to offer a Green RCF; we continue to innovate in this space. This is part of HSBC’s global commitment to provide $100bn in sustainable financing and investment by 2025.”
 
HSBC UK has already provided Green Loans valuing £600m to UK businesses as part of the pilot, including:
 
  • Green Arranger as part of a club funding package for UK property developer Argent to support the development of Facebook’s new UK headquarters in London, which is one of the world’s greenest buildings.
  • A £175m Green Loan for Edwardian Hotels London to ensure its new ‘Super Boutique’ hotel, The Londoner, situated in Leicester Square, will be one of the greenest hotels in the UK. This was the first Green Loan in the hotels sector.

HSBC UK Commercial Banking Head of Sustainable Finance Rob King added, “We have seen strong demand from businesses since launching the Green Loan pilot last year, so we are confident this suite of green finance products will support our customers to meet their sustainability agendas. Our customers are asking for more green finance products to support their specific ambitions.

 
“Our offering allows our customers to showcase their green credentials to stakeholders by demonstrating that a portion of their funding is ring-fenced for genuine environmental and sustainability activities. Many stakeholders are now considering a company’s green credentials when making decisions about whether to work with, work for or invest in that company.”
The National Trust has announced that it will sell off the shares it holds in fossil fuel companies.
 
At present, 4% of its £1bn stock market investment is in such firms.
 
The Trust, the biggest conservation charity in Europe, said it wanted to invest in green start-ups and portfolios that benefited nature and the environment.
 
It said it had set a three-year timescale for the change, but most shares would be sold within a year.
 
Until now, the Trust had been prepared to invest in firms that derived less than 10% of their turnover from the extraction of thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands.
 
That same threshold was also adopted by the Church of England in 2015. A year ago, however, the Church's General Synod voted to withdraw investment from companies that do not meet the terms of the Paris climate agreement by 2023.
 
And last month, the Norwegian parliament approved plans for the country's sovereign wealth fund, which manages $1tn (£786bn) of the country's assets, to sell coal and oil investments worth $13bn and invest in renewable energy projects instead.
 
"Over the years, we've gradually evolved our investment strategy to reduce our carbon footprint," said the Trust's chief financial officer, Peter Vermeulen.
 
Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, he added: "As a conservation charity [we] believe that after decades' worth of lobbying not enough has been done by the oil and gas companies, and for that reason we're looking to withdraw our investment and invest in companies that are looking to deliver environmental benefits as well as financial returns."
 
He acknowledged that oil giants such as BP and Shell were investing in renewable energy, but said that while their investments were "not insignificant", they were "too small as a proportion of their total capital investment".
 
"Still less than 10% of the oil major's investment is on low-carbon technologies and we believe that's not sufficient," he said.
 
The Trust said it analysed the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio every six months.
 
It said it also required all its investment managers to be signatories of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.
 
The National Trust is responsible for the upkeep of 248,000 hectares of land, 780 miles of coastline and more than 500 historic buildings and parks across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
 
It has 5.2 million members and more than 60,000 volunteers. 

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