Posts from November 2016

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Scrutinising the Autumn Statement

Against the backdrop of Brexit, today’s Autumn Statement was much anticipated. Ahead of its announcement, the predicted impact of the EU Referendum result, “JAMs” - those “just about managing”- and infrastructure were all hot topics.

So, what did Philip Hammond actually cover and were there any surprises?

As expected, there were no grand giveaways, but a clearer picture of the nation’s economic future was painted. With borrowing up, growth down and a £122bn black hole caused by Brexit, the Chancellor’s statement focused on the long-term future of the UK, its economic interests and, crucially in a post-referendum world, how the Government plans to keep Britain as the “number one destination for business”.

Alongside its renewed pledges to cut corporation tax, productivity and infrastructure were cornerstones of the Chancellor’s statement. To illustrate the need to invest, Hammond used the analogy that “it takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five; which means, in turn, that too many British workers work longer hours for lower pay than their counterparts.”

With more than £1bn ringfenced for digital infrastructure and the Government also offering business rate relief on new fibre infrastructure from April 2017, small businesses and those in rural locations will benefit, making them more competitive in an increasingly globalised market.

While the £1.1bn extra investment in local transport networks is a positive step, it actually only represents 0.08% of GDP and still leaves us lagging behind other developed nations when it comes to spending on infrastructure. If an industrial strategy is to be delivered successfully, it needs significantly more financial investment and a focus on how we address the skills shortage in the built environment sector.

One of the most important announcements came in relation to the Northern Powerhouse, so much so that it was trending on Twitter throughout the statement announcement.

£1.8bn will come from the Local Growth Fund to English regions, giving businesses outside of the capital a financial boost. The North has been allocated £556m, with the aim to improve productivity and infrastructure to support the Northern Powerhouse strategy. While the investment is positive and fits into the long-term strategy to reduce the gap between London and northern cities, it’s important to note that infrastructure investment remains low as a percentage of GDP.

There was good news for the construction industry, with a pledge to invest a further £1.4bn to deliver 40,000 additional affordable homes and a £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund, which aims to unlock land over the coming years. With more and more people struggling to get on to the housing ladder, this has been welcomed by many, while also giving a boost to businesses operating in the housing sector.

So, what is the verdict overall?

For business, there are some real positives, particularly from an investment and innovation point of view. Boosting productivity and improving infrastructure could help to protect the UK’s long-term growth ambitions and, crucially, raise the standard of living for millions.

However, at the same time, the skills shortage in the construction sector remains and needs addressing urgently, while pressure on public services could ultimately undo any of proactive, business-centric policies. With two thirds of NHS trusts reporting deficits, the Government cannot ignore the failing health of our health service for much longer.

It will take time to see the results from this latest round of announcements, particularly those around infrastructure, but one thing is for sure, there will be some bumps in the road to economic recovery.


Tagged with: Autumn Statement, Brexit, Built Environment, Construction, Housebuilding, Infrastructure, opinion, Politics, Productivity

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HS2: Manchester to London in just over 60 minutes – what do we think?

Last week, the second phase of the North West and Yorkshire HS2 route was revealed. Once complete in 2033, the £56 billion project will see the rail journey time between Manchester and London cut from 127 minutes to 67 minutes.


Since the HS2 project was first announced, it has received both criticism and support from politicians, businesses, environmental groups and the public.

So what do some members of the Refresh PR team think?

Laura Mashiter: “I welcome the new HS2 route. We need to connect the north with the south more and it will open up further exciting opportunities for businesses in and around Manchester. While it’s great that the links between Manchester and London will be improved, we also need to make sure that links between the north improve to make sure the Northern Powerhouse is as strong and successful as it can be. In this year’s budget, a number of infrastructure announcements were made including HS3, a new road tunnel from Manchester to Sheffield, and completion of a four-lane M62 – and I really hope to see these and more improvements started in the very near future.”

Erin Heywood: “At Refresh we regularly travel between Manchester and London to meet clients, suppliers and partners, as well as attend events, and I personally think two hours for this journey is absolutely fine. To improve the Manchester to London journey, it would be great if some of the peak trains could be more affordable and to make the Wi-Fi more reliable so we could use the time effectively to catch up on work. £56 billion seems a lot of money to improve something that a lot of people wouldn’t really consider a problem in the first place. I think the money being invested in this project could be put to better use in helping the UK economy – in particular healthcare and the NHS.”

Maya Powell: “I think the shorter journey time between London and Manchester will be a good thing for the UK. It will help London be less disconnected with the north and blur the north-south divide. As a recent graduate who has a lot of friends looking for work, I think it’s great that the HS2 railway will help to boost employment opportunities for those in the north who don’t want to move away from home or live in the capital where the cost of living is so much higher. We might also see more London-based companies moving to other parts of the country. I think generally the HS2 will help to rebalance the UK economy and open up employment opportunities, which is a good thing in my eyes.”

Claire Gamble: “On one hand, I think it’s great that we’re investing in a faster, more efficient rail infrastructure which is bound to open up more opportunities for businesses and individuals. However, it’s a huge sum of money to spend on saving an hour on a trip which isn’t that bad in the first place – and this money could be used to improve the wider rail network around the UK. Another potential issue we may see as a result of HS2 is house prices rising in Manchester, as it would become more feasible for people to live further out of the capital but still commute. While it’s an exciting opportunity to be able to work and commute more easily between two major cities, rising costs would be bad news for lots of families in and around Manchester. We’ve already seen prices rise considerably in areas such as Chorlton and Didsbury as more people are moving up from London for jobs in Media City, for example, and this trend could well continue in other parts of the city.”

Laura Holden: “I’m worried the HS2 project will see train fares rise in general all over the UK. As well as paying a premium for the Yorkshire or North West route to and from London, it could result in costs rising for local rail journeys too.  There are a lot of people whose homes and/or businesses will be impacted as a result of the HS2 route and I hope they’ll be reimbursed fairly for the upheaval. Overall, I’d prefer to see the money invested in helping education and the NHS.”

Christy Milmine: “I think HS2 will be good for Manchester. It won’t just open up the north to London, but to the rest of the world too – we’ll have easier access to the Eurostar and the London airports with lots more direct flights than what we currently have access to. It could also lead to a property boom in Manchester and the north as more people could move here from all over the country for the better transport links and infrastructure. I think that’s great if you’ve already bought property in or around Manchester but if you’re trying to get on the property ladder it could become even more of a struggle.”

What do you think of the HS2 high speed rail link? We’d love to hear your opinion!



Tagged with: Construction, Debate, HS2, Lifestyle, Manchester, North West

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Triple triumph for Refresh PR at industry awards

Refresh PR has scooped three prestigious PR and marketing industry awards, including northern small agency of the year at the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) Northern Awards.

The CIM Awards, which are judged by a panel of leading industry experts, including several chartered marketers, were announced at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle to celebrate outstanding marketing campaigns and talent from across the North of England.

We also took the top prize in the CIM’s best northern region campaign category for our work on the Food Porn Awards. Launched to restaurants across the North West, our team delivered an all-encompassing communications campaign that swept the region and made a genuine business impact for our client, STM Photography.

On the same night, we also picked up silver for the Food Porn Awards in the corporate and business communications campaign category at the North West CIPR PRide Awards, which recognise the leading campaigns and agencies in the region.

Laura Mashiter, managing director at Refresh PR, said: “The CIM Northern Awards celebrate the best marketing talent across the north of England so to take home the award for best agency is testament to our talented team and the results that we deliver for our clients. Winning two awards in one night for our Food Porn Awards campaign cements our agency’s reputation for food and drink communications.”

Diane Earles, network manager for CIM, said: “Congratulations to Refresh PR, which won the Northern Region campaign and Small Agency of the Year categories.”

Paul Say, owner and director at Say-DE Consulting Ltd, who judged the Region Campaign category, said: “It was low cost, but had high impact tactics showing how a small budget can be well utilised with a big idea at the heart of the strategy.”

Charlie Nettle, chair of CIM North East, who judged the small agency category, said: “The strategic focus, implementation of company values and business processes alongside a commitment to training and development suggest this business is mature beyond its years from the perspective of business excellence.”




Tagged with: B2B, Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIM, CIPR , communications, Food & Drink, Food Porn Awards, Manchester, Marketing, northern, PR, PR agencies Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, PRide Awards, PRidenw, Public Relations, Public Relations North West

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Solid foundations? Prefab homes and the housing crisis

Britain’s housing crisis has been building over the past decade. It’s no secret that a lack of affordable housing and the increasing size of deposits required has resulted in rising levels of temporary accommodation, as well as a market where home ownership remains out of reach for millions.

As a prospective first time buyer and reluctant member of “Generation Rent”, considering how to get on to the housing ladder is daunting to say the least. So, naturally, discussions this week about the Government’s plans to build 100,000 modern prefab homes piqued my interest.

First created in the post-war era to bridge the shortage of housing after World War Two, the original prefab homes were hampered by quality issues. Quickly constructed, they offered a lifeline for many displaced families, but were designed to last no more than ten years and thus provided only a short-term fix.

This week’s announcement has been at odds with these long-standing perceptions of so-called “ready-made homes”, repositioning them as a potential long-term solution for the UK’s modern day housing crisis.

So, is the plan built on solid foundations or will it all come tumbling down?

A recent report by the homelessness charity, Shelter, forecasted that the Government will miss its target of one million homes by 2020, with a predicted shortfall of 266,000 and a new solution required. Enter stage right, prefab housing.

This new generation of modern homes takes on a whole new design and manufacturing model. While they are still in a ready-made format – produced in factories and constructed on site – improvements in technology mean that quality is no longer a limitation. Modular design enables designers to work off-site and use new technologies that keep quality, and the end user’s needs, in sight.

Let’s take an example of this approach in action. Property innovator, Urban Splash, has recently unveiled its Manchester-based Irwell Riverside house development, offering prospective buyers autonomy over their living space. Marketing itself with the slogan “offering space not rooms” is very astute; people first decide how many square feet they require and then how to use the space. For example, if a tenant wants their kitchen on the top floor and an open plan environment, this can be easily factored in thanks to the flexible modular design. Urban Splash has won awards for its innovative approach and it appears that the powers that be are taking note.

As well as more control over design decisions and increased flexibility, modern prefabs offer another key advantage for the Government’s house building initiatives: speed. With the manufacturing process generally taking between 12 and 14 days, and then a further ten to 12 days to construct on site, prefab homes offer the kind of turnaround that traditional house building could only dream of.

With 2020 fast approaching and the housing crisis deepening, prefabs could be the solution that the country so desperately needs.







Tagged with: building, Built Environment, Construction, homes, houses, Manchester, Marketing, PR, PR agencies Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, prefab, Public Relations, Public Relations North West