2021 East Midlands Review of the Year: March to April

Over Christmas we are looking back on a remarkable year for business across the region. One that started in the midst of latest lockdown restrictions but which seemed to be on the up with vaccination roll-outs. As businesses were getting back to some level of normality, they took a fresh knock from the combination of worker shortages, supply chain issues, inflation and various other consequences of Covid and Brexit. Then Omicron hit……. This was how things looked in March and April.

Bradshaw Taylor

The boss of a family-owned UK clothes company described how he horrified the board when he said he wanted to take the business in a completely new direction.

Corry Taylor, managing director of outdoor and country clothing distributor Bradshaw Taylor , said he put an ultimatum to the board when he took over – and the gamble paid off.

In the intervening years the business has expanded rapidly, bringing new brands on board and growing global sales.

Today Bradshaw Taylor – based in Oakham, in Rutland , right in the heart of the country – now supplies more than 1,000 retailers with items ranging from waxed jackets to ski gear, wellington boots, hiking boots, rucksacks and climbing equipment.

Brands under its umbrella include fields sports clothing and skiwear company Schöffel, wellington boot maker Le Chameau, Sherpa adventure gear and Keen footwear.

Speaking to Business Live Corry said it had been hard to get the business where it was today, but the company had prospered, most recently helped by people buying outdoors kit to stay fit in lockdown, and investment in online sales.

Making a splash – Le Chameau boots Leicester Pedestrianisation

Business leaders said plans to pedestrianise the main route between Leicester station and the city centre would benefit the area as life slowly gets back to normal.

Leicester City Council said it was planning to spend £900,000 making Granby Street more welcoming for visitors coming into the city by train.

It said the work would see automated bollards at its key entry and exit points, changes to junctions, and improvements to cycle lanes and footpaths.

The scheme would be paid for using government funding awarded to the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) for infrastructure projects to create jobs and support economic recovery after the pandemic.

Mukesh Patel, managing partner of Freeth law firm’s Leicester office, which is close to Granby Street, said: “We need to highlight the strengths of the city and whilst we have great areas like the Lanes and Highcross we do need to connect up the rest of the city better and in particular Granby Street which is looking somewhat unloved at the present time.”

Granby Street in Leicester Everards Brewery

The boss of the Everards brewery said the business had cancelled almost £4.7 million of rent for its 170-odd pub managers over 2020.

Managing director Stephen Gould said the company had cut 73 per cent of its rent roll in the 12 months to March, 2021, to secure the long-term future of the estate through the pandemic.

He said despite such a tough trading environment Everards was pushing on with £5 million plans for a 150 bedroom hotel next to its new Everards Meadows home , just south of Leicester.

He said a new beer hall recently completed on the site would open on June 3, while the business was gradually bringing its new brewery up to speed, which will be capable of brewing 16,000 barrels of beer a year.

Mr Gould said a smaller “ pilot brewery ” has also been set up allowing Everards to do trial production runs of new beers and allow members of the public to have a go at brewing their own.

More than 70 per cent of Everards pubs reopened when outdoor sales were given the go-ahead on April 12, with the rest opening from May 17.

Mr Gould said a combination of the pub owners’ “resilience, innovation and commitment to their communities, plus Everards and HM Government support” meant the pub estate remained fully let as of the end of last month.

A pint of Everards’ Tiger bitter BioCity

BioCity was bought in a £120 million deal, which was said to have created the UK’s biggest life sciences business park group.

US real estate investment firm Harrison Street and UK real estate collective Trinity Investment Management joined forces to buy the science incubator and business unit group.

They said they were merging it with Knowledge Factory – Trinity’s innovation focussed real estate business – to create a new business called the We Are Pioneer Group.

BioCity has more than 200 companies based at its main sites in Nottingham, Cardiff and Glasgow and in Cheshire, Aberdeen and Newcastle.

As well as offering traditional landlord services it provides things such as coaching, flexible lab and office space and PAYG services as well as investment in life science businesses.

Over the years BioCity has invested in 29 early-stage companies, using funds from its own cash reserves and from a joint venture with AstraZeneca which BioCity manages.

It was founded in 2002 by the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, in a former BASF Pharma research facility in Nottingham city centre.

BioCity Discovery Building Nottingham Post Office

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells quit the boards of Dunelm and Morrisons following the subpostmaster miscarriage of justice scandal.

Ms Vennells – who was a non-executive director of both chains – said she was “truly sorry” for the “suffering” caused to subpostmasters wrongly convicted of offences while she was Post Office chief executive.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were wrongfully prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system, which had “bugs, defects and errors” from the very outset.

Back in April some 39 former subpostmasters who were convicted and even jailed based on Horizon data had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. Ms Vennells headed up the organisation from 2012 to 2019.

She said she was stepping back from her church duties as associate minister in Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden, Bedfordshire.

The diocese said she had informed the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, who is the son of a former postmaster.

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. (Image: PA) The Gresham

The former boss of Leicester’s Belmont Hotel was appointed to run the city’s new Gresham aparthotel.

Eloic Montagnier was brought in to manage the £17 million, 133 bed hotel currently being built inside Leicester’s landmark Market Street Fenwick building, which opened this autumn.

Mr Montagnier, who moved to the UK in 1996, was general manager at the New Walk Belmont between 2014 and 2019.

He said: “I’m delighted to be taking on the role of general manager of The Gresham Aparthote l.

“It’s an exciting new challenge and a brilliant opportunity to be involved in a completely new venture, in a great city that I know well.

“I am looking forward to being able to help shape the operation from the start. The Gresham is an iconic, ‘stand out’ building and will have a unique positioning in the Leicester hotel market to match.

“I think it will make an important contribution to the city as well as the future regeneration of the area.”

New Gresham aparthotel manager Eloic Montagnier Blue Light Card

A company which operates a discount scheme for emergency workers said it had taken on 60 new staff over the previous year.

Loughborough-based Blue Light Card runs a discount service for the emergency services, NHS, social care sector and the armed forces, which gives them access to special rates at 16,500 retail partners.

It was founded in 2008, and has more than 2 million members who get discounts online and on the high street, with offers available on restaurants, fashion, tech and days out. Companies it works with include Boohoo, Domino’s and Dunelm.

Eligible members pay £4.99 for a membership card which is valid for two years.

New recruits include Vicky Norrish, who has joined the team as chief financial officer.

Blue Light Card gives discounts to 999 and other key workers European Super League

An exclusive European Super League solely open to the biggest clubs in Europe would have a huge impact on the teams left behind, according to the boss of one of the UK’s biggest business groups.

Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber said teams such as Leicester City – at the time third in the Premier League and through to the FA Cup final – could face a big financial hit as would the cities they are based in from missing out on big matchday bonanzas.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City announced they had signed up to the breakaway competition along with Spanish sides Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona and Italian clubs AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan.

The super league plan had support from investment bank JP Morgan, which has apparently offered £4.3 billion in loans for teams involved.

The plans were dropped after widespread condemnation by fans and pundits.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich during a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge Brexit

Managers at a business support service said they were being inundated by companies coming to them for help with the complexities of Brexit.

Management at the Leicester and Leicestershire Growth Hub said companies were still getting bogged down in red tape as they tried to cope with new levels of bureaucracy that came in at the start of the year.

Bigger companies, as well as SMEs, were also said to be finding it tough.

Figures suggested UK trade with the EU bounced back in February after a record slump following its exit from the trading bloc on January 1.

However, February’s exports to the EU were still 11 per cent below the same month in 2020 – a sign of continued border friction.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that exports to the EU rose by £3.7 billion – or 46.6 per cent – following a £5.7 billion decline in January, driven by machinery, transport equipment and chemicals.

Imports from the EU have been less resilient, and remained more than £5 billion down.

Nothing to see here: Empty supermarket shelves in a UK supermarket (Image: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) SmartParc

A new industrial campus dedicated to food production and research was given planning approval.

The £300 million SmartParc in Derby could create thousands of new jobs and bring millions of pounds into the local economy.

Back in the spring of 2021 Derby City Council gave outline planning for the scheme on the city’s former Celanese site.

However planning officers said there were still some issues to be resolved over things such as road access.

Planning documents outlined a series of measures that the developer would be required to fund to improve the surrounding area, including a bus service, cycleway and improvements to road junctions.

Coun Ross McCristal said the “really exciting” project would send a message that “Derby is open for business” .

The plans, submitted by SmartParc in December 2020, will see the 155-acre scheme built on the former Celanese site , creating up to 5,000 jobs.

Buildings across the site will have a combined 2.4 million sq ft of floor space.

How the £300m high-tech SmartParc food campus in Derby will look Sign up for your free East Midlands newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn

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Tom PegdenLeicester Mercury business editor