Counter Context achieves hallmark of PR excellence

We are delighted to announce that Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard, our latest news release provides more detail.

Sheffield communications and public affairs company Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard (CMS), a mark of excellence within the public relations industry.

The CMS is awarded by professional body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), which represents and regulates over 20,000 PR companies in the UK. As a member of the PRCA, Counter Context opted to apply for the accreditation to acknowledge its dedicated approach to business management, staff development and customer service.

The accreditation process involved a rigorous assessment of nine core business areas including leadership and communication, business planning, financial management, diversity and client satisfaction. An independent assessor scored the company against strict criteria, combining principles of the ISO 9001 international quality standard and the Investors in People award.

Counter Context secured the accreditation after proving compliant in all areas of the assessment. Managing Director, Alexis Krachai said,

“This is a fantastic achievement for Counter Context and I am extremely proud of the entire team. They deserve recognition of their hard work and consistently high standards and this accreditation does just that.

“From our internal communications and employee development, through to our finance management and client feedback mechanisms, we have robust systems and processes in place delivered by an outstanding team of professionals. Gaining the CRM mark demonstrates to our clients that they are buying a professional service from a communications company that is committed to excellence.”

The beautiful game

Last month, Sheffield’s local Derby saw the city divided in its support but united in excitement. Our MD Alexis wrote for Sheffield’s local publication The Star about the potential a strong Premiership football club could bring to the city. 

One half of the city celebrates. The other drowns its sorrows. Last month’s Steel City Derby showed again why Sheffield is the true capital of football.

Anyone at Hillsborough or watching at home witnessed why football is the greatest game on earth. Five years of frustration went out the door as United went two up. The noise was deafening when Wednesday levelled. Ecstasy turned to agony as United regained the lead 90 seconds later and went on to score their 4th. At fulltime 30,000 wanted the world to end. 2,500 Blades saw their dreams come true.

Why does it matter so much? The three points won and lost seemed an afterthought. It was about bragging rights. It was about pride. It was about avoiding going to work or school on Monday to face the banter that follows any local derby.

Many say that money has changed the game. Sky high ticket prices. Players on silly money. Games that kick off at times to suit the TV broadcasters, not the fans. The challenge for owners is how you balance running a multimillion pound business whilst keeping a strong bond with fans and communities. I am not always sure we get the balance right.

One thing is clear though. Football in Sheffield is on the up. United’s charge up the table since their promotion does not look like running out of steam. Wednesday is in the middle of a wobble but will likely be pushing for promotion at the end of the season.

Whatever happens we need a team back in the Premiership. A seat at the top table brings profile and money. Profile and money brings investment and jobs. Not persuaded? Football supports 5000 jobs and generates £330m a year in Manchester. There is no way that city would have grown like it has without the success of United and City.

With success will come challenges. How to maintain affordable ticket prices but provide the modern stadiums that the game increasingly demands. One question will keep coming up. Will our two clubs one day share a stadium? The head says it is probably inevitable. The game is more and more about money and bigger stadiums make financial sense. The heart says no way. You only had to be at Hillsborough on Sunday to know that red and blue do not mix.

Perspective on: renewable energy

By Emily Marshall, Associate Director

Over the years I have spoken to many people about their views on renewable energy whilst consulting on the various plans and proposals for large scale wind and solar developments. There has always been a general consensus that the earth’s climate is changing due to anthropogenic factors and that we should do something about it. The debate has continued as to what, exactly, that something is.

Renewable energies have been criticised as being:

expensive, inefficient, requiring subsidies, intermittent and ugly. A few remarkable things have happened in a relatively short period of time to help counter these criticisms.

The price of wind and solar technologies has dropped significantly, with costs of renewable technologies worldwide having decreased by 60%. Rapid cost reductions and technological improvements mean government financial support is not needed. By 2020 the cost of renewables is set to be less than the current power price. There is no longer a trade-off between low carbon and low cost.

What’s more, wind turbine blades are now harnessing the same power from 10knots as they did before with 20knots, setting the stage for unprecedented growth.

What about intermittency? The issue of storage has long been the Holy Grail of renewable energy. ‘Grid scale’ battery installation is now happening across the UK.

Battery storage is also a key government R&D area, with the Government poised to invest £246m.

There’s still an (ugly?) elephant in the room…

Strong public opposition often accompanies proposals for schemes being announced. Counter Context delivers effective consultation and engagement to increase understanding and acceptance in communities. This year, we have facilitated 20 public consultation events around Norfolk for the world’s largest offshore wind farm. We have undertaken robust research and communications planning for a client in the solar industry and are ready to roll out the first stage of public consultation for a large scale solar farm.

All projects have risks. We work with our clients to reduce those risks by building understanding and trust, and deliver successful schemes with local support.

On the horizon for this sector is the outcome of responses to the industrial strategy green paper and how developers will deliver against ambitious price bids in the latest CfD auction. Finally, we are investigating what future government support will look like, following HM Treasury’s announcement that it would abolish the Levy Control Framework.

Perspective on: property developments

By Harriet Knowles, Account Director

As we headed into 2017, the real surprise was that it very much felt like ‘business as usual’. Development activity in the North continues apace, and at Counter Context, we’ve enjoyed supporting many new and exciting schemes.

We all waited with bated breath for the housing white paper. This eventually landed in February with much fanfare but little in the way of revolutionary policies to transform housing delivery. As we entered a new parliament, it became clear that housing delivery will not be at the top of the national political agenda and the onus will remain on developers to work within the existing systems.

One element of the housing white paper that has gained traction in Greater Manchester, under the new leadership of Andy Burnham, is the push for urban intensification in sustainable locations, over greenfield development. The housing crisis will not be solved without some Green Belt release. However, we certainly see a major role for schemes such as the Far East Consortium’s (FEC’s) sustainable new community at Angel Meadow in Manchester, which Counter Context has supported this year.

Whether greenfield development or urban intensification, the common thread is the need to include existing communities as proposals develop.

This is not only crucial to help unlock project consents, but to establish the principles of placemaking at an early stage.

On to commercial developments and the north of the country continues to present an attractive investment proposition. Counter Context has enjoyed a fascinating year of helping developers and investors from the South East and overseas to navigate the northern City Region landscapes to bring forward new schemes.

Away from the cut and thrust of regional politics, we still enjoy the more creative side of our work. One highlight of our year so far was organising a Wimbledon-themed launch for Acero, the latest Grade A office at Scarborough Group’s Sheffield Digital Campus. There can be no better proof of the northern down-to-earth approach than the Leader of Sheffield City Council getting stuck into a game of table tennis!

HS2 is the route for opportunity

On Monday 17 July, the government announced the HS2 route. Our MD, Alexis, explores what this means now for South Yorkshire.

The government has now confirmed its solution for bringing HS2 to our region. A lot of ink and some political blood has been spilt getting to this point. The arguments for and against various options have been rehearsed time and again. Hopefully, we can now draw a line in the sand.

Communities near the new route need our politicians to come together to minimise the impact HS2 will have on their homes and businesses. They need a process that is clear and transparent. They need certainty and financial compensation. Business and political leaders need to agree how the arrival of high-speed rail can supercharge economic growth.

The hard work starts now. Compelling ideas are around every corner. We have a window of opportunity to come together to demand more action from government to give us the infrastructure our region needs to excel.

Here is what I think we need next. A commitment to fund a high-speed rail hub in Sheffield City Centre that connects HS2 with high-speed rail to Manchester and beyond. Final confirmation we will get a second HS2 station that is located even closer to Rotherham and Barnsley. A clear signal from Ministers they will support Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s bid to get a rail link directly off the East Coast Mainline. This rail link would bring our airport within less than 80 minutes’ travel time of London. Cargo and passenger numbers will go through the roof as airlines launch flights to new destinations. The benefits for global trade and travel from our region would be huge.

Closer-to-home travel also needs attention. The arrival of HS2 needs to be a catalyst for far better rail links, from Barnsley to Chesterfield and from Doncaster to Dore. With better connectivity will come more businesses. More businesses will bring more jobs and more investment.

A world-class rail network, including an airport with a direct connection to the capital, would put our region on a different footing. We would rival regions around the world. We would be able to compete for investment and events we can currently only dream of. Want an example? Silverstone have said from 2019 the F1 Grand Prix will need a new home. Is this too fanciful? Perhaps; but the government’s announcement means we are building up a head of steam. Let’s grab the opportunity.

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.