Enterprise in Hull

Image courtesy of Hull City AFC Enterprise Academy

In Hull, they know that it is tough being Hull. They know that most secondary school students in the London commuter belt have no idea where Hull is and they must wonder also just how many in the Palace of Westminster would know how to get there, if pushed. This is a huge shame because Hull is one of the most
inspirational cities I know – it is a beacon of ‘Big Society’ in action but was doing it long before Mr Cameron and friends coined the phrase.

Just one example of Hull’s spirit and self-motivation is the Hull Enterprise Academy, which celebrated its second anniversary a few weeks ago. Hull City AFC and Hull FC share the KC Stadium and inspire hundreds of young people not only through world class sport but through an engaging and exciting business and enterprise programme. The latest ‘Enterprise Academy Newsletter’ reports that 1,000 of the city’s young people are on target to achieve their “Business and Enterprise qualification from the OCR awarding body”. It really is an excellent programme, and one in which I am proud to have played a (very small) part when the initiative was in its infancy. For more about Hull’s Enterprise  Academy look here or if you prefer, follow the Enterprise Academy at Hull FC or Hull City AFC on Facebook.

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Europe in the zone?

Copyright Mike Paice

Worrying but unsurprising that GDP in the UK is trailing
that of the majority of its European partners
. We have, in many respects, a tougher job to do from a less diverse economic base than those of the EU growth leaders. The full impact of spending cuts, tax-hikes, middle-east tensions and Eurozone bailouts are far from home to roost – so consumer confidence isn’t going to improve any time soon. And yet consumer spending is vital for economic growth. My household is on an austerity budget – cutting debt and waste and scrimping across every budget of which we have control. Clearly, we are not alone and most households across the country are far from loosening their belts. I don’t really want to restart the whole “does the Government have a plan B” debate but I believe that further decisions will have to be made over the next three months, as another dip seems increasingly likely.

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Compensation for discrimination

Care needs to be taken in considering any limits on compensation levels for discrimination cases – see Next steps in review of employment law. Few people will escape without ever experiencing some level of employer discrimination during their lifetime. Often the only compensation needed is an apology and agreed steps to rectify the situation.

Compensation awards through Employment Tribunals should be reserved for the most serious cases. Award levels should be decided on a case-by-case basis and not against
a limited or capped sliding-scale of penalties that make offending employers feel comfortable. Mechanisms must be in place to filter out any “weak, speculative or vexatious cases” because this is necessary to protect both honest employers and the British taxpayer. And employers need to feel confident that weak cases will be filtered out and will
not result in them being taken-to-the-cleaners. But if you are an employer and discriminate significantly against anyone, why should you enjoy the privilege of “certainty? After all, the impact of your discrimination had no certainty.

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Happy Europe Day!

Image courtesy of the European Commission

Oh come on, you knew didn’t you? 9th May, the day back in 1950 when Robert Schuman called upon European nations to pool together their coal and steel resources, paving the way to the European Union?

Well OK, we don’t do “being European” very well in the UK – maybe we should (I’m unashamedly pro-Europe so have a natural bias). Cyprus has certainly got the balance right, with a weekend of music concerts, dancing performances and community activities in the beautiful city of Paphos, before starting the more serious events today. And rather surprisingly, Europe Day 2011 is being celebrated in Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City – with a mini series of cultural activities (presumably European ex-pats drive those initiatives).  I’m a little more suspicious of the giant “euro-karaoke” at the doors of the European Parliament in Brussels but can see potential for the same next year in Westminster (I’m seeing images of our erstwhile coalition leaders kicking-off the event with a duet of ‘So Happy Together’ but maybe I’m a little ahead of myself on that one). But as far as the UK is concerned, it has to be hats off to Wales – which does seem to be embracing its European side with a number of Europe Day events (although rather more serious than those already mentioned). So, whether celebrating or not, have a great Europe Day.

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STEM – time to walk the walk.

Successive UK governments have long harped on about the importance of STEM
(Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and quite rightly so. Has
all this talk amounted to much? Well, it seems not. New research shows that
people feel less informed about science now than they did three years ago –
despite there being a steady increase in public interest in science over the
last decade or so. Furthermore, our universities still struggle to convert this
apparent public interest in science into significantly higher numbers of new
students applying for STEM degree courses – a situation we must turn around if
the fortunes of UK Plc., are to improve.

Science Minister, David Willets announced on Monday (it seems that not all public servants take the public holidays off) that the government is going to throw £13 million of our science budget at outreach in schools and public engagement, together with another £6.3m support for STEMNET (an initiative that “helps young people understand the amazing range of careers that can come from studying these subjects” says Willets). OK but why don’t we back-up that money by ensuring that our £300 million of National
Scholarship Programme
funds over the three years from 2012-15 are weighted
heavily in favour of STEM student programmes? And how about weighting student
grants towards STEM subjects? If public interest is not being converted into
public study, incentivise.

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Heads or tails? AV or not, at the toss of a coin.

I have, perhaps, given over too much of my ever dwindling brain power to the AV debate. As much as anything, I have been trying to decide if there
really is merit in the proposed system of ranking candidates in order of preference. On the face of it, AV appears to be little more than sending us to the polling booth with the aim of making something akin to a schoolboy list of who is the ‘fittest girl’ in their year group. And actually, that is pretty much the size of it. General elections are first about policies and secondly about personalities. It takes me long enough to decide, each time a general election comes around, which party manifesto is anywhere close to representing my views
and wishes – whilst knowing that none of them will be delivered truthfully when the party takes power. More hung parliaments (which are one sure outcome of AV) mean that you might just as well flip a coin on any of the policies proposed by the political parties you are considering. AV is simply amateurish nonsense and needs consigning to the rubbish bin along with those politicians that insult our intelligence by trying to convince us that it is anything otherwise.

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Immigrant entrepreneurs head for home

Photo courtesy of FreePhotos.com

The Kauffman Foundation in the U.S.A. has published a report today that has found that “high-skilled immigrant entrepreneurs from India and China are leaving the United States by
the tens of thousands each year”
. And the main reason – better economic and
professional opportunities in their home countries. This has to ring alarm
bells here in the U.K. If the environment for entrepreneurship in the United States is not sufficient to retain these high-skilled immigrants, then what chance is there that the U.K. will fair any better in retaining its high-skilled immigrants?

The survey does point out, however, that those who return to their home countries maintain and exploit their contacts back in the United States with potential benefit to both nations. So if the same scenario pans out here will the deficit created by the drain in the talent pool, be offset to some extent by greater collaborative working? A cue for some research here, if not already underway. You can find the report here: Kauffman
Foundation report

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19th century rail links let down the North East

Photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com

A couple of days ago my friends at the Bdaily Business Network Northeast inadvertently “set me off on one”. An article had been posted about a very commendable programme offering start-up funding to rural start-up and micro-businesses looking to expand in certain parts of the north east.  On the same page there is a poll about whether city status would improve Middlesbrough’s prosperity. I know some incredible people in Middlesbrough doing tremendous work to support and encourage enterprise in the area – I know others doing similar great things in another of my favourite places a little further south, Hull. Both Middlesbrough and Hull are blighted with some of the worst railway links surviving in England and I can only guess at the state of transport links to some of the more rural areas in these parts of the country. So why on Earth isn’t central government supporting these communities with better transport links? They are doing all they can to support enterprise for the benefit of their communities and it is essential for UK Plc., that they succeed. So why have successive governments seemed determined to turn their backs on the north east and stick ‘High Speed 2’ straight up the west of the country, which already has some pretty impressive rail links? One of the ministers I worked with, some years ago, said that we mustn’t fail in the north east if we were to consider our promotion and support of enterprise to be a success. Of course transport and communication links are not magic wands but time and time again these issues are ignored to the detriment of some of the bravest communities in the country.

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Today’s GDP announcement

Photo courtesy of H. M. Treasury

I suppose that the best thing we can say about this morning’s announcement on Q1 GDP (still 0.5%) is that there weren’t really any surprises. The economy is still very much dependent on its life support machine and it seems that there was no significant catch-up on production lost due to the “exceptional weather” we had in December 2010. The huge importance of the business services
and finance sector is underlined once again and whatever we think of the banks, ‘Flatline George’ has a difficult job in ensuring that any additional
regulation does not jeopardise their ability to function strongly. Manufacturing at 1.1% is reassuring and although the offset from falling energy production etc., may ring alarm bells for the future contribution of the sector it does at
least look like mainstream manufacturing is alive and well in the toughest of
conditions. Any reliance on increased consumer spending in the near future will
most certainly be unrewarded and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the loss of one
or two more high-street brands before the year is out. See http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=192
for the summary.

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Welcome to Pontacks Coffee Shop

Photo courtesy of FreePhotos.com

There’s nothing really new about social networking, only the way in which we do it. Today we use Facebook or Twitter and a range of online forums and communities to talk about the things of most interest to us, make new friends and find new opportunities. In the 18th century social networking could only happen face-to-face and for many it happened at the coffee-shop. History often seems to turn full-circle and meeting at the coffee-shop was reborn when Starbucks, Costa Coffee and other contemporary coffee-shops took over from the pubs as the places to meet, greet and network.

When I set up this blog I was about to turn my hand to a new career in writing – producing web content, magazine articles and other print and online copy. This little blog became the place where, as a newbie, I would write about the things that interested me in the worlds of enterprise and current affairs. I have not been coming here as often since that work has taken off and so I have made a mid-year resolution to post more often and cover more subjects as my work introduces me to new subjects and new people.

Oh yes and the name…. Pontacks was a coffee shop my family owned in Liverpool, many years ago – there’s a very short history in the ‘About’ section.

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