What the Queen did – and did not – say at the State Opening of Parliament

The Queen’s speech may have been light on content, but it doesn’t make that content any less important.  Unsurprisingly, it was dominated by Brexit bills as the UK starts to define the laws that will govern its exit from the EU. This sense of focus on Brexit was heightened by the removal of several more controversial key Tory policies, indicating both the relative weakness of the Prime Minister’s position in her party and the ongoing negotiations with the DUP to establish a majority.

On Brexit, May is looking to maximise certainty for British businesses and reduce the burden on the UK government of managing the process, by effectively copying and pasting EU Laws into UK Laws and cutting out the bits she doesn’t like. This sounds simple enough. However, the relationship between EU law and UK law is complex, and interwoven, built up over more than 40 years.  One thing is clear – her position in many key areas hasn’t softened. A bill will legislate for the end of free movement from the EU with an indication that only those with high skills, or those in most demand – the ‘best’ and ‘brightest’ – are allowed into the country.

Other Brexit bills include:

  • New nuclear safeguards, with plans for regulation from the UK rather than EU
  • Measures towards an independent trade policy

There were signs that the Government intends to refocus Britain back towards advanced technologies in the wake of Brexit and the financial crash.  Bills to enable commercial spaceflight from the UK and the expansion and regulation of automated and electric vehicles hint that the Government is serious about its Industrial Strategy and cementing the UK’s place as a leading location for the development of these technologies.

Equally, the turbulence and volatility of both Brexit and a hung Parliament do not seem to have undermined the Government’s commitment to invest in HS2.  Powers to build the second phase of the high-speed rail line were included, fast-tracking the ability to deliver the western leg up to Crewe, bringing HS2 within touching distance of Manchester ahead of the original schedule.  Significantly, the Bill included powers to compulsory purchase the land along the new routes required to build HS2 – a crucial element needed to physically deliver such a complex project. These moves should reinforce confidence that the Government still intends to deliver on at least this element of high speed rail for the UK.

Given the dominance of Brexit in the UK Government’s consciousness, it seems incredible to think that we had never heard of Brexit two or three years ago.  But a year is a long time in politics.  It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will still be referred to as the Prime Minister long enough to implement many of the Bills she proposed yesterday.

Will May’s gamble deliver a better Brexit?

Brexit, Trump and a Hung Parliament.  What the business, development and investment community crave is stability.  Yet, as the ripples of the Brexit vote and financial crisis continue, we have precisely the opposite.  Many have questioned the election result. There is a narrative that explains it though, demonstrating that the societal trends exposed by the EU referendum hold true.

Theresa May built her campaign around the ability to force through a hard Brexit against EU negotiators. In doing so she failed to acknowledge two key points revealed by the very vote that made Brexit a reality.

Turnout for the 2015 general election was around 66%, yet for the EU referendum it was over 72%.  That equates to an extra 3 million votes.  In other words, a good number of non-voters in 2015, voted in the 2016 EU referendum.  Who these 3 million are matters.

Younger people from prosperous areas are typically more pro-EU and on the left, yet over recent elections, the young have been far less likely to vote.  It’s likely that part of the extra votes in the EU referendum came from these younger, anti-establishment remain voters. In deprived areas, election turnout is often low, yet support for Brexit was high.  So, it’s likely that part of the extra 3 million in the EU referendum came also from deprived anti-establishment leave voters.

Fast forward to the recent general election and turnout was 68.7%: around half of the extra 3 million votes cast in the EU referendum fell away.  Yet almost half – around 1.6 million – voted again.

Theresa May’s campaign message to deliver a strong Brexit ensured the younger anti-establishment ‘remain’ voters turned out once more against her. What May also failed to recognise was that much of the anti-establishment ‘leave’ vote would revert to not voting.  Add in May’s U-turn on social care, no-shows at TV debates, and a better than predicted Labour performance and you have the result.

For business, the outcome tells us a few things: the tensions between the haves and have-nots aren’t going away – we need the right skills system to help business and young people from all backgrounds to succeed. The result will probably see a more conciliatory approach to Brexit negotiations and access to the single market, better for local manufacturers who export to Europe.

We are unlikely to see an end to uncertainty, which will risk delays to investment – this could be damaging. Finally, we live in a febrile world – for the investment and development community, thoughtful consultation, engagement and communication with stakeholders and communities is more important than ever in ensuring developments go ahead.

Leadership cannot come from government alone

Tasked with writing a column before the general election, knowing that by the time it is published the results will be in, is no easy business. The latest blog from our MD Alexis is the result of such a challenge. Here he explains that, regardless of the election result, private sector businesses need also to step up to a leadership role.

Putting a newspaper together is a complicated business. Columns like mine often have to be written a week in advance. That is a challenge this month as I want to write about the result of the general election before the election takes place. I am not about to make any predictions but I know one thing for certain. The voice from local business needs to be a strong and powerful influence on whoever is elected.

Leadership cannot come alone from our politicians. The government is facing unprecedented financial pressures. Whether you are in favour of more or less public spending you cannot deny one thing: the amount of debt owed by our country has grown tremendously and continues to grow. Our government spends more than it receives. Coupled with Brexit and the terrible challenges we face around security and terrorism, one thing is clear: any UK government is going to be under pressure from day one.

Business has a vital role to play in sharing the burden. Not just big business but every business, in every town and every city across the land. Business can provide the leadership on those key issues that will shape our economy for years to come. How do we generate more jobs? How do we attract more investment? How do we deal with Brexit? All of these questions can only be answered sensibly if businesses have a strong and powerful voice in the debate.

Politicians need to listen but businesses need to step up and be heard. As ever, Sheffield leads the way. In our own city we have a strong and active Chamber of Commerce. We have the private sector-led Business Improvement District that is investing thousands in improving our city centre. I have recently been involved in setting up the Sheffield Property Association. The first Association outside of London to represent the organisations that own and invest in buildings across our city. Together they invest billions in our local economy and will be a strong and powerful voice to drive investment and economic growth.

The morning after the election all eyes will be on Westminster, but it is worth remembering that leadership needs to come from us all; businesses included.

Nuclear, wind and the battle for trust and support

Written by Sam Rowe.
On the northern coasts of England, two fascinating stories are being played out which may determine the future of our energy industry. On the west coast, the uncertainty of Moorside and the nuclear industry, while on the east coast, the optimism of offshore wind.

 Moorside and Cumbria

The proposed nuclear power plant in Moorside, near Sellafield in Cumbria, has promised be transformational to the region. It is estimated that the £15bn project will bring over 20,000 jobs to the area, and confidence in it going ahead was high. Consultation had already begun on the overhead pylons to carry the power generated to the National Grid, with a planning application for the connections due to be submitted this year. Before the recent by-election in nearby constituency Copland, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to commit his support to the proposed development in an interview, which was a significant factor in Labour’s subsequent historic defeat of the seat to the Conservatives.

Since that by-election, the future of the project looks far less certain that it was originally thought. The US nuclear division of Toshiba – who had a 60% stake in NuGen, the consortium behind Moorside, recently filed for bankruptcy. It was planned that this division, Westinghouse Electric, would build the three reactors for the proposed plant. Since the bankruptcy was announced, Toshiba started a review of its involvement in non-Japanese nuclear projects. Since then, 40% stake holder Engie has pulled out of the project, leaving Toshiba the sole backer, and National Grid’s plans for connecting pylons have been put on hold. Local MPs are calling for Government intervention.

Wind and the Humber

On the other side of the country, things could not be more different. At the recent Offshore Wind Connections event in Bridlington, delegates were waxing lyrical about the promising future of the offshore wind industry in the Humber. £20bn has already been invested into the industry in the UK, with the new wind turbine factory Green Port Hull being a huge success for employment in the local area. Lord Haskins, chair of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, stated that offshore wind is already producing 10% of all electricity in the country, and could well be producing up to 40% in the next 15 years. Through cuts in costs and technological advances leading to increased productivity and competitiveness, offshore wind has made itself an increasingly attractive investment. It looks likely that it will soon be able to rely less on Government backing and stand on its own two feet. As Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK put it, offshore wind has gone ‘from the sidelines to the mainstream in less than a decade.’

Here we have two contrasting case studies of relationships with the wider political and economic stakeholder groups. The Moorside project, with its huge potential but financial risks, has less and less enthusiasm from the global business community, yet still has the political leverage to topple parties in the local area. Government will no doubt do as much as possible to make the project happen – Greg Clark has already visited Seoul to talk with South Korean Government officials to secure investment. In contrast, the offshore wind industry, even in the Humber region, still receives mixed views amongst the prospective MP candidates, and is constantly having to justify the benefits it has brought. It is unlikely anyone will lose their seat in Lincolnshire or the Humber due to a lack of support for offshore wind.

Evidently, the offshore wind industry still has a way to go to garner trust and support in the regional and national political communities. It is doing all the right things by decreasing costs, creating jobs and increasing investment returns, but so far has yet to spark the imagination of the country at large. A lot of work has been done to make offshore wind a viable, mainstream source of energy. Yet more work is required to convince everyone that this is the case.

Counter Context supports Sheffield Sharks community programme

We are delighted to announce that we’ve scored an exciting sponsorship deal with the Sheffield Sharks, becoming partners of the community development ‘Respect’ programme, along with our sister company, Quality Context.

We launched the sponsorship earlier this month when we brushed up on our basketball skills with an exclusive lesson from Sharks’ player, Zach Gachette and head coach, Atiba Lyons. As corporate partners of the Respect programme, we will provide financial and hands-on support to the programme, which reaches over 600 young people in the Sheffield City Region every year.

This programme is aimed at children aged 9 to 11 who are vulnerable and at risk to pressures in society including cyber bullying, child exploitation and crime. The Respect programme is designed to give children a dynamic learning experience, which includes six hours of basketball coaching and two hours of in-school education. Sharks players, several of which are qualified teachers, deliver the basketball and educational lessons, a unique aspect to the programme which has proven successful in engaging young people.

The programme culminates in an annual cross-school tournament, hosted at the home of Sheffield Sharks, the English Institute of Sport, providing the children with an opportunity to come together, celebrate and showcase their skills.

In 2017 alone, the Respect programme will be delivered in 10 schools in the city region and both us and Quality Context are happy to help make this happen.

Kate Krachai, Managing Director of Quality Context, said:

“The Sheffield Sharks are doing an amazing job, not only of increasing awareness of our impressive basketball credentials in Sheffield, but of using their position and reach to make a positive impact to the lives and prospects of young people in the region.

“Both companies are proud to be based in Sheffield and once we heard about the fantastic work the Sharks are doing in the Sheffield City Region, we had no hesitation in sponsoring such an inspirational programme.

“The basketball lesson given to our employees was brilliant and we saw first-hand how natural the players are at motivating and inspiring people to learn new skills.

“Our teams are looking forward to getting involved; volunteering at the summer tournament and contributing to some of the lessons delivered on the Respect programme to ensure this vital initiative continues to support young people in our region.”

Estates Gazette Annual Property Summit – an overview

On May 18, Account Director Harriet Knowles attended the Estates Gazette Annual Property Summit in Manchester. Here, she summarises the main points and take away questions from the event. For more information on anything discussed below, contact Harriet on harriet.knowles@countercontext.com.

Amongst many graphs, figures and predictions, some headline points stood out from the economic and market forecasts, including references to Brexit, office rents and inner-city land values.

The Brexit vote hasn’t caused investment to plummet as some predicted, those who were in the middle of schemes are carrying on. However, things will undoubtedly get more challenging for complicated, long-term projects. The main investors are certainly less inclined to fund large schemes in their entirety and are looking to fund individual elements instead. The increase in international investment in the UK regions was a point that stood out. As it stands, 43% of large schemes outside of London are now all or part funded by non-domestic capital.

Land values are starting to rise in key regional cities. While seen as a good thing from a viability perspective, an increase in office rents may become an issue for Manchester’s competitiveness – will higher rents result in occupiers looking at other key northern cities such as Leeds and potentially Sheffield?
The issue of how European Regional Development Funding is going to be replaced was a hot topic of debate. Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, waxed lyrical about how the North West Evergreen Fund had provided debt finance to underpin several key developments. There was talk of a ‘crisis’ looming if ERDF isn’t replaced by the UK Government.

The week following Andy Burnham’s election as Mayor, it was interesting to hear Eamonn Boylan speak. His tone, while positive, was discernibly less celebratory and more focussed on what issues Greater Manchester still needs to grapple with. The new GM administration is going to have much more of a focus on addressing Greater Manchester’s economic divide. The focus will be on connecting disadvantaged communities to the opportunities in central Manchester. Boylan stated that development plans and measures of effectiveness will be about whether “someone from Collyhurst or Moss Side feels any benefit from what’s going on in the city.”

On the issue of housing, he restated Greater Manchester’s need for 225,000 new homes over 20 years. The draft Spatial Framework will be reviewed again with an aim of reducing the impact on the Green Belt; he explained that one way to limit Green Belt release is to go for urban intensification in Manchester and also to build within the regional towns. They will go back out to consultation on the GMSF in September.

All in all, the event provided useful insightful into the context of development in North of England, with a specific focus on Greater Manchester. Eamonn Boylan’s perspective on making development relevant and meaningful to the communities it affects, and to ensure that investment has maximum reach, felt particularly poignant as something we at Counter Context strive to achieve for all of our clients.

 

 

Devolution: why it’s time to pay attention

Our MD Alexis offers his perspective on why devolution matters and why Sheffield City Region will benefit from greater powers.

In the midst of a general election campaign, with Brexit hovering on the horizon, it is natural to want to tune out and switch off from politics altogether.

Before you reach for the red button though, you might want to pause and pay attention to a less high profile topic that can define our region for the next 50 years.

Devolution. Very simply this is the idea of our region being given more powers. Instead of Whitehall telling us what to do, we will be able to make decisions that will shape our economy and help us to create more jobs.

Devolution is a good idea. It makes sense that we are in control of what our region needs to do to become more successful. The problem is that not many people, including businesses, are paying attention to what is going on. For too many the debate about devolution provokes a yawn and drooping eye lids.

This is why it matters.  The government has said if we want more powers we need a mayor who will be elected by local people. Birmingham and Manchester elected their mayors two weeks ago, Sheffield City Region did not.

We are 12 months behind the curve because of legal challenges made by Derbyshire County Council who argued that people in Chesterfield had not been consulted properly on the question of whether the town should join Sheffield City Region. Before you drop to sleep it is important to consider the consequences.

If we do not get behind our devolution deal we will lose the opportunity. The government will not give us the powers we need to grow our economy and create more jobs. In very simple terms we will be left behind.

This should worry everyone who runs a business or lives in our region. Our city region needs to compete globally. We need the connectivity to access global markets. We need the powers to create brilliant places to live. We need to find innovative ways to raise money that will fund frontline services.  Without devolution, it will be harder to attract investment and create the jobs we need.

Later this summer there will be another consultation on our devolution deal. The roar from local businesses needs to be heard across the region. Devolution matters and must happen.

Counter Context sets sights on city growth with high profile political appointment

Counter Context has appointed former deputy leader of Sheffield City Council, Leigh Bramall, a key figure in securing the UK’s largest Chinese investment outside of London and creator of the concept behind Sheffield’s ‘Outdoor City’ brand.

Leigh’s arrival at the communications and public affairs company is an integral part of Counter Context’s growth strategy which included expansion into Manchester in 2016. The company is developing its public affairs offering in response to the increasingly unpredictable political landscape and growing focus on devolved decision making that its clients operate in.

The appointment also recognises wider dynamics in which partnership between the private and the public sector is needed to develop and grow economies and solve many of the challenges facing cities and City Regions. This is particularly pertinent now, when funding available from national and local government is declining rapidly.

The company cites many of the major ongoing developments in Sheffield within its portfolio, including the new Retail Quarter, transformation of the former NUM building and Acero, the newest addition to the Digital Campus. Counter Context also has a solid track record in the North West which has included work for The Cooperative Group, Manchester City Council, Bruntwood, Transport for Greater Manchester, Salford City College and CBRE Global Investors.

Managing Director, Alexis Krachai commented: “In the face of an election and whatever the reality of Brexit Britain may look like, businesses need an awareness and understanding of how the political landscape, at local and national level, may affect them.

“Working primarily within the built environment, this is particularly relevant to our clients. Policy change at national level can have a huge impact on a proposed development and Leigh’s insight will really help our clients to negotiate the challenges this can bring.  Furthermore, we are increasingly active in the arena of city branding and leadership and recognise that the private sector doesn’t exist in isolation – that citywide public-private partnerships are needed for areas to succeed.

“Leigh’s experience of high-level local government, together with Counter Context’s areas of expertise, enable us to play our part in helping to grow local economies and create the conditions for business to thrive.  He has lead on a transformational phase for Sheffield and we are excited to see him continue in this vein in his remit at Counter Context.”

Leigh’s arrival follows a significant year for Counter Context during which it exceeded £1.2million turnover and increased its international client base, supporting offshore wind developments in the US.

In response to increasing demand for its creative services, the company grew its in-house design team which offers a range of expertise in graphic design, digital marketing, brand development and illustration. Counter Context also hired a marketing and PR specialist to head up its own promotional activities and those of its clients.

If you’d like to find out more about Counter Context and the consultation, engagement and promotional services it offers, please visit the website www.countercontext.com, call 0114 252 1170 or follow the company on Twitter @countercontext

Be proud of Steel City’s sporting heritage

This month Alexis Krachai, MD of Counter Context, wrote for The Star Business monthly about Sheffield’s sporting heritage and the role it has to play in the city’s economy.

Sheffield United’s promotion to the football Championship, the snooker at The Crucible, Kell Brook’s fight at Bramall Lane later this month. These events excite fans and attract big crowds. They capture the imagination and create pride in the city. They also mean big business and the opportunity to put Sheffield on the map.

Our city has a long and proud sporting history. The world’s oldest football clubs, the home of the World Snooker Championship and training HQ of Team GB Boxing. It is the base for one of the UK’s best basketball teams; the DBL Sheffield Sharks. All of this is made possible because we proudly boast world-class facilities such as Ponds Forge Sports Centre and the English Institute of Sport (EIS). New specialist facilities are being built at the Olympic Legacy Park. For athletes, boxers and players these facilities matter.

The city’s sporting success is helping to grow our economy. The World Snooker Championship has generated £100 million for our economy since the tournament came to Sheffield. On May 27th when Kell steps into the ring every hotel room in the city will have been sold to fans flocking to Bramall Lane. Later in the summer we will host the Special Olympics Great Britain National Summer Games. Our city will host over 2,600 athletes, 800 coaches, 750 volunteers and over 5,000 spectators. All of these visitors will spend money in local shops, hotels and restaurants.

At a recent Sheffield Chamber event held ringside at the EIS, home of GB Boxing, we heard that £7 million has been invested in the city by the sports club. This includes a large property portfolio, jobs created and international training camps. Anthony Joshua, who still trains in Sheffield, said himself: “There is no place like this training camp.”

If our city is to continue growing we need to attract international investment. Sport generates interest. Interest generates investment. The World Snooker is watched by hundreds of millions of people. Some will run businesses or want to invest in the UK. Some of these many millions will visit Sheffield and spend money in our city simply because we are the home of the world’s most famous snooker tournament.

Some might argue that sport is just about fun and entertainment. They are wrong. Investing in our sporting success and hosting world-class events helps to grow our economy. Sport attracts interest. Interest attracts visitors and investment. Investment grows our economy helping to support local businesses and create jobs.

Powering the Powerhouse

Last week, IPPR North published a report on the North of England’s potential to become a world-leader in the production of renewable energy. The report considers three alternative futures for the energy sector in the North:

  1. The North as an energy leader – pioneering new approaches to energy production, innovation and decarbonisation.
  2. The North as a technological adopter – implementing, but not driving, new technologies to achieve decarbonisation and energy supply / demand targets.
  3. The North as an energy drifter – failing to exploit current opportunities and becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy technology and resources.

At Counter Context, we are privileged to be involved in a number of pioneering and world leading renewable energy projects in the North of England. From our experience in this sector, and our roots in this part of the country, we are confident that the North is already well-progressed in becoming a world-leader in the production of renewable energy. We are committed to helping ensure that the first option in IPPR North’s report becomes a reality.

The UK needs energy that is secure, sustainable and affordable. Perhaps some consider this to be a fundamental trade-off, and one that can’t be resolved by renewable energy initiatives. To the contrary, projects underway and in the pipeline in the North have the key to solving this puzzle.

Counter Context has been able to witness first-hand the innovation taking place on some of the largest renewable energy projects the country has seen. The combination of ongoing innovation and the growing scale of renewable infrastructure means that the trade-off between energy affordability and energy sustainability is diminishing rapidly. As developers continue to drive down costs of renewable energy projects, our clients will be able to deliver energy that is both clean and affordable. Over recent years, the North has helped to facilitate this industrial-scale growth of the renewable energy sector, in particular offshore wind power projects.

The third element of the UK’s well cited ‘Energy Trilemma’ – energy security – can also be addressed by renewable projects. In the UK, including the North of England, we are lucky enough to have natural conditions that favour efficient renewable energy projects – such as some of the windiest conditions in Europe. These conditions mean the North is well placed to utilise inexhaustible energy sources to deliver energy to millions of homes without fail. Last Friday the UK went the whole day without using coal to generate electricity – the first time this has happened since the 1880s. The growth of the renewables sector means this can happen more and more.

Supply chain benefits
As well as supplying clean energy to help achieve the UK’s needed and ambitious decarbonisation targets, the renewable sector also brings significant socio-economic benefits and opportunities. This has been evidenced in the Humber region by Siemens – the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world – opening a new manufacturing and assembly plant in Hull, which is expected to bring 1,000 direct jobs to the region. The potential supply chain benefits associated with the renewable sector are enormous. We have seen the benefits of facilitating cross-working between our clients, LEPs and business enterprises to help establish world-leading supply chains in this growing sector.

Of course, while large scale infrastructure projects benefit the whole of the UK, through the delivery of clean and affordable energy alongside economic investment, they have particular impacts on the local communities in which they are built. A significant portion of our contribution to the delivery of NSIP projects involves engaging with these local stakeholders, ensuring that they are kept updated of project works and have clear channels through which to contact developers, so that honest and trusting relationships can be established. A number of schemes include Community Benefit Funds to support public and environmental initiatives, allowing members of the local community the opportunity to directly benefit from the projects. This social contribution is in addition to the job creation the projects bring.

In summary, to us it is clear that the North is already committed to the sustainable energy economy, and is set to become a world-leading area for renewable innovation and generation. To find out how we can help you take part in this imminent energy revolution, get in touch.