Friday, November 24, 2017

News: Rapid progress on pioneering University Centre Rotherham


With the steelwork up and concrete being poured, contractors working on the new £10.5m University Centre Rotherham (UCR) are making rapid progress on creating a new beacon for the town.

Businesses from across Rotherham visited the UCR site this week as part of the Rotherham Pioneers breakfast meeting, which centred around celebrating Rotherham and its future.

The meeting was an opportunity for Phil Sayles, deputy principal of the RNN Group, to explain how UCR will work closely with local employers to shape education that will ensure that students have the skills and experience they need to go into successful careers and drive the Rotherham economy.

Alan Neal, construction manager at Willmott Dixon, who are leading on the project, discussed the progress of the build where work is ahead of schedule.

In autumn 2018, the RNN Group will open the centre on Doncaster Gate, near its Rotherham College Town Centre Campus. UCR will offer state-of-the-art facilities and a wide variety of degree courses accredited by top universities and awarding bodies, including Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Hull, with plans for over 50 courses to be running at UCR by 2020.

Sayles told attendees: "It is going up really quickly. All the steelwork is up and contractors are moving on to other areas. The new centre sends a message about higher education opportunities in our town."


The 35,500 sq ft campus building has been designed by Bond Bryan to accommodate approximately 560 people on a typical term day but will be built with expansion in mind and teaching space for approximately 1,000 students.

Rotherham Council has provided the land for the campus in a cut price deal. The Sheffield City Region (SCR) Combined Authority has agreed to fund infrastructure works. A grant of £3.5m has been approved with the balance coming from RNN Group.

Sayles discussed the issues around higher level skills in the area where the percentage of people with degree / HND level qualifications is 10% lower than the national average and described a "starkness" in participation from different areas in the borough.

The UCR is about making sure local people have the confidence and ambition to gain those much-needed higher level skills but it is also about closings the skills gaps holding back local businesses.

Estimated to attract 1,000 additional students over the first five years, the UCR's model is based on offering an alternative technical education with Level 3 courses and apprenticeships up to degrees and degree apprenticeships at Level 4 to 7.

RNN Group, which encompasses Rotherham College, North Notts College and Dearne Valley College, alongside apprenticeship business, RNN Training, has been working closely with 200 of the 1,000 employers it has links with to develop courses that particularly meet a need for the local economy.


Sayles explained to attendees how businesses can work with the UCR in influencing teaching, setting real world briefs for students and talent spotting the graduates. "UCR will bring massive, positive change to businesses in our town" he said.

The group is also in the process of setting up a number of employer advisory groups. A good relationship with NHS Trusts led to the establishment of a health sector group with more set to follow based around construction, the visitor economy, IT and engineering.

The RNN Group is a founding member of the Rotherham Pioneers - an exclusive group for Rotherham businesses who want to promote the town, celebrate all that is good, and grow the Rotherham business community. The next event is scheduled to be held at Grimm & Co in December.

UCR website
Rotherham Pioneers website

Images: Tom Austen


News: Cash boost for capital projects


Further transport and infrastructure projects with a quick turnaround are being sought to ensure that the Sheffield city region spends all of its growth funding.

An open call has gone out for bids to fund projects that can fully commit the SCR resources within the next 18 months.

Funding for these schemes will come from the £650m Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund (SCRIF). This fund includes Local Growth Fund (LGF) resources, which is part of the Government's continued investment in the Northern Powerhouse.

SCRIF has been used to fund projects such as the new link road to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Superfast South Yorkshire, BRT and the link road at Tinsley, and improvements to the A618 and access to Gulliver's site at Rother Valley. £45m has been set aside for the A630 Parkway between Catcliffe and the M1 Junction 33.

Successful projects will be placed on the Reserve Capital list and priority will be given to schemes that can commit funding by the end of March 2019. The deadline for applications is the December 8.

The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has recently closed a call for its Housing Fund, an £8m pilot project aimed at funding ideas for delivering new homes to get them underway by the end of this year.


Nigel Brewster, vice chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP, said: "As our major capital investment fund, SCRIF invests in schemes across the whole city region and enables the city region to effectively leverage private and public sector investment, as we build a truly competitive centre of business excellence.

"The current SCRIF programme is made up of 30 major schemes, spread across the varied geography of the city region, including projects as varied as the Great Yorkshire Way, the new iPort facility and the innovative Grey to Green public realm project in Sheffield city centre.

"I hope that partners across the region will take advantage of this opportunity and put their bids forward before the closing date early next month."

The aim of this call for bids is to build a reserve pipeline of exciting capital projects which can be funded as and when budgets allow, and also to ensure that the city region is ready to respond effectively to national funding calls as they become available, thereby increasing chances of success.

The recent Budget indicates that the SCR will need to bid for a part of the Government's Transforming Cities Fund.

Furthermore, the scheme will provide development partners with a route for their proposals to be assessed and developed without having to delay until formal budgets are announced, as well as ensuring funding allocations already secured by the city region are fully utilised.

The LEP board heard recently that spending on its £85.8m LGF programme had slipped this year, with an estimated underspend of £23.63m, putting at risk £34.29m of available funds in future years. Directors have been assessing the schemes which should lead to further monitoring to ensure progress.

Projects are also at risk of losing LGF money if they cannot progress as originally planned. The £15m DN7 Hatfield link project and £18m+ project to dual the A630 West Moor Link between M18 Junction 4 to A18 Thorne Road have been given a "red" rating by officers.

Images: SCR LEP


News: Newburgh Precision expands machining capability


Rotherham precision engineering specialists, Newburgh Precision Ltd, has invested in a new CNC machining centre to produce high-value components for the defence industry.

With state-of-the-art premises at Templeborough, Newburgh Precision has unrivalled expertise in machining precision components and supplies the oil & gas, power generation, defence, rail and aerospace sectors.

It specialises in manufacturing "cells" that include dedicated groups of resources operated by a team of multi-skilled individuals that are committed to producing a product or products for one customer, in this case, for a defence contract awarded in the first quarter of 2017.

Newburgh has acquired a new KAFO KMC-4140 double-column CNC machining centre from sole UK agent, TDT Technology.

David Greenan, managing director at Newburgh Precision, said: "We recently secured a long-term defence contract for large stainless steel components and needed extra capacity. Initially, we began producing the parts on an existing bed mill, but this machine already had a busy workload and it was apparent we needed a new resource."


A CNC milling machine includes a mini computer that acts as the controller unit, providing more flexibility for skilled operators. Newburgh's machine will be used on material for the stainless steel defence part that carries a value of £80,000 per workpiece.

Lee Townsend, sales director at Newburgh Precision, said: "The machine strengthens our already extensive capacity, although the machine was purchased with one contract in mind we have had the opportunity to utilise spare pockets of capacity to prove out new work which has led to orders being placed with Newburgh."

Helping to generate annual turnover of approximately £4m is a workforce of 65, around 90% of whom have served an apprenticeship, including David Greenan. He added: "Our people are a major factor in the success of Newburgh Precision, which in combination with continuous investment in technology and facilities, means we are able to retain our position as the UK's premier contract manufacturing company."

Newburgh Precision website

Images: TDT Technology


Thursday, November 23, 2017

News: Autumn Budget 2017


Rothbiz editor, Tom Austen takes a look at the Budget 2017 and the Conservative Government's "resolve to look forwards not backwards."

The start of the speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond focused on Brexit and the main headline grabber was to do with scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers, but I think that the most important issue, for the country, and especially for this region, is the focus on productivity.

The UK lags behind our European neighbours when it comes to productivity and in turn the Sheffield city region lags behind other UK regions. Closing the gap between the UK's productivity and Germany's would increase the size of the UK economy by a third. However, the Chancellor was forced to tell the House that: "regrettably our productivity performance continues to disappoint."

He added: "The OBR has assumed at each of the last 16 fiscal events that productivity growth would return to its pre-crisis trend of about 2% a year, but it has remained stubbornly flat. So today they revise down the outlook for productivity growth, business investment, and GDP growth across the forecast period."

We know that the Government has an Industrial Strategy which aims to improve productivity and create better and higher-paying jobs across the UK, unfortunately, we are still waiting on further details of how this can happen, and how Rotherham and the Sheffield city region can play its part. The Business Secretary is expected to present a white paper to the House in the next few days.


What we do know is that the National Productivity Investment Fund is being extended for a further year, taking it over £31bn. Announced this time last year, it brings together Government spending on housing, R&D, transport and economic infrastructure.

Other efforts to boost productivity include £2.3 billion of investment in R&D projects, with an extension of tax credits available to companies, from 11% to 12%. Following consultation, a 10-year action plan is being development to unlock over £20 billion to finance growth in innovative firms. A new £2.5 billion Investment Fund incubated in the British Business Bank is being established and the private sector and pension pots are being encouraged to invest in growing UK firms.

The British Business Bank's Enterprise Finance Guarantee is also being extended to 2022 to support up to £500m of loans per annum.

As well as access to finance, also key to productivity is skills and the Budget included plans to create a partnership with industry and trade unions to design a "national retraining scheme" to give people more science, technology and maths (STEM) skills. On technical education, a further £20m to support FE colleges with new "T levels."

It was also included in the Budget that Tech Nation will roll out a dedicated sector programme for growing UK tech companies. £21m has been set aside over the next four years and a regional hub is to be set up in Sheffield.

On Brexit it was confirmed that another £3bn over the next two years is being set aside, on top of the £700m already invested in Brexit preparations. This is to "ensure a smooth transition" for when we leave the European Union.

The Budget was "about more than Brexit" so after a few terrible sore throat, Jeremy Clarkson and I'm a Celebrity gags, the Chancellor made further announcements.

On transport, a £1.7 billion new transforming cities fund (part of the NPIF mention above) led to more head-scratching in the Sheffield city region. The majority of the fund, to improve local transport connections, has been divvied up to regions which have elected mayors, for them to control and spend as they see fit. As the SCR does not yet have an elected mayor, as it stands, the combined authority will have to bid into the remaining funds to get the cash to back its new transport strategy.

The funding was calculated per capita so whilst £243m goes to Greater Manchester and £250m to the West Midlands, the political disputes in South Yorkshire may have cost the Sheffield city region around £100m of guaranteed funding.

The Budget also confirmed a £220m Clean Air Fund to provide support to local authorities (like Rotherham) as they draw up local air quality plans. Already announced was a new 26-30 rail card.

Further detail will be set out in the Industrial Strategy on how city regions can boost productivity and the national economy. On other key areas for Rotherham, like manufacturing, there wasn't anything specific in the Budget.

On the tricky issue of business rates, much needed reform is making steady progress. The Government is bringing forward to next April the planned switch in indexation from RPI to the main measure of inflation (currently CPI) and the £1,000 business rate discount for pubs is being extended.

On personal tax, the personal allowance will rise from £11,500 to £11,850 in April and the top rate of tax will rise from £45,000 to £46,350.

The national living wage paid to workers aged 25 or over will rise from £7.50 an hour to £7.83 an hour next April.

The abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers got the big cheer [what first time buyers need £300,000 for a house in Rotherham? And if you can afford £300,000 then a few grand in stamp duty surely isn't going to break the deal...] and the Chancellor also confirmed a total of at least £44bn in capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the housing market.

For local reaction to the budget head here.

Images: HM Treasury


News: Budget 2017 reaction


Reaction from around the region on key areas outlined in the Autumn Budget.

One focus for the Government is boosting the UK's productivity and a white paper on a new Industrial Strategy is on its way.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, said: "Public R&D investment will play a major role in increasing the UK's economic productivity. By supporting platforms dedicated to R&D and innovation, including the UK's network of High-Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres [including the AMRC and Nuclear AMRC in Rotherham and Sheffield], the Government can crowd-in investment in R&D and innovation from the private sector and bridge the funding gap between the UK and other major economies.

"This will ensure that companies can invest in the long-term – replacing old technologies and machinery, boosting the skills of their workers and becoming globally competitive companies which pay high wages. As a new era of production efficiency emerges, we need to invest in Industry 4.0 production technologies – such as Big Data and the Internet of Things – to stimulate growth in our manufacturing base and focus on the places where productivity has remained historically low for decades."

Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), added: "Our initial reaction is surprise that there wasn't detailed support for UK manufacturing.

"We eagerly await the publication of the Industrial Strategy next week to see where the announced R&D funding is directed, and would hope that targeted funding for the greater adoption of digital technologies in manufacturing - a recognised productivity enabler - is evident it the white paper. Only by adopting these technologies can we hope to achieve the productivity increase that the UK needs."


On housing announcements, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has already said the main effect of proposed changes to stamp duty would be to raise house prices and only lead to the purchase of an additional 3,500 homes a year. It also added that it did not think the house building measures would make much difference.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey is the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and has attacked the Government for its record on housebuilding and affordable homes. He tweeted to say that the so-called "housing budget" had no new Government investment in affordable homes, no action to help renters and three homeless pilots, adding that it was "not up to the job."

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham said that the Budget: "fails to address the disparity in spending in Yorkshire & Humber compared to London on transport." Without an elected mayor at present, the Sheffield city region has missed out on around £100m of guaranteed funding for transport. Funding has also yet to be confirmed for Northern Powerhouse rail and Transpennine improvements.

Taking to Twitter, Champion, who left the Shadow cabinet in August, added that: "The meagre rise in the National Living Wage to £7.83 is still below the Real Living Wage that is what employees and their families need to live."

The Sheffield city Region Local Enterprise Partnership joined with other business leaders to call on support the region on funding, transport and skills. Resonding to the Budget, Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the LEP, said: "The Chancellor's revised forecasts for UK growth and productivity further underline the importance of investing in a stronger Sheffield city region to make a more resilient UK economy.

"Sheffield City Region showed a gain of 37,000 jobs between 2014, when the LEP launched its Growth Plan, and 2017. Activity led by our LEP has contributed 16,000 new jobs to the economy and leveraged £318 million of private sector investment. We want to work with Government to build on this success and achieve transformational change.

"Following today's budget, our LEP will be working with Government to make sure we take advantage of its new transport fund for city regions. The LEP will insist that Sheffield City Region gets its fair share of this fund so that we can deliver our strategic plans for a super-connected city region.

"The Chancellor's Budget set out ambitious plans to be build thousands more homes and we will work hard to make sure that a good share of these homes get built here in Sheffield city region. The way to get things done is through the Sheffield City Region and our own Housing Investment Fund has received an exceptionally high level of interest. Although this is going some way to helping us to meet our housing ambitions, it is good to hear Government say that it can and that it will do more to boost house building.

"In Sheffield City Region we are building a truly competitive centre of business excellence which is now at the forefront for high performance components for the aerospace and the automotive sectors, with recent investments from McLaren and Boeing further enhancing our capability. We welcome the news that the Chancellor will make additional funding available for investment in research and development and we will work with Government to ensure they realise the scale of opportunity in Sheffield city region."

Images: HM Treasury

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