2013: The Year in Business Part One − January to June

Andrew Harrison, who became managing director at Stansted Airport following its acquisition by the Manchester Airports Group (MAG). Andrew Harrison, who became managing director at Stansted Airport following its acquisition by the Manchester Airports Group (MAG).

Sarah Chambers
Thursday, January 2, 2014
8:32 AM

In the first part of a review of the region’s business year, Sarah Chambers picks out some of the more notable stories for the opening six months of 2013.

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January

A new survey said business confidence in the eastern region was continuing to rise, driven by strong expectations for profits.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson signalled the UK government’s support for an end to direct European Union subsidy payments to farmers.

Martin Goymour, the owner of two East Anglian zoos – Banham Zoo near Diss and Africa Alive at Kessingland – was hoping to complete their transfer into the hands of a charitable trust by February 1.

The latest Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index (PMI) survey suggested that Britain’s economy may have plunged back into the red as figures indicated the powerhouse services sector shrank last month for the first time in two years.

Bury St Edmunds-based Servest, which provides a range of services, served up a major New Year expansion with the acquisition of an £80million-turnover catering firm.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s revealed it rang up more than £100m in sales on Christmas Eve in a record-breaking festive trading week.

2,000 jobs at camera retailer Jessops were under threat following the group’s collapse into administration.

East Anglian based travel agency Fred. Olsen started its 25th anniversary year with the acquisition of Travel Quest of Woodbridge.

Haven Gateway Partnership chief executive David Ralph announced he was to start a new career in the East Midlands.

Luke Morris, partner at Ipswich branch of Larking Gowen, became the new chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors.

Marks and Spencer share prices fell after ‘dismal’ Christmas sales for clothing.

Krazy Horse, the Suffolk-based motorcycle dealership which specialises in customised bikes, opened a new multi-million pound facility which it hoped would attract visitors from across the UK.

Bosses at stricken retail chain HMV insist the business could have a future on the High Street, despite plunging into administration after poor Christmas sales.

DVD and video games rental firm Blockbuster UK went into administration putting 4,000 jobs at risk.

ABP Food Group, the company at the centre of a scandal over the discovery of horse meat in burgers, vowed to adopt stricter DNA testing process to prevent repeat problems.

East Anglian based Godfrey DIY called in liquidators following further decrease in sales, but hoped its stores would survive.

The National Farmers Union welcomed the appointment of Christine Tacon, former head of the Co-op Group’s farming business, as the new independent groceries code adjudicator.

The number of people in work across the UK reached another new record following a further fall in unemployment and another dip in claims for the Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Two branches of the former Britannia Building Society in Ipswich and one in Colchester were to close under plans announced by the Co-operative Bank to reshape its network.

Britain’s scandal-hit banking industry was facing another hefty compensation bill after a review of complex products sold to small businesses found more than 90% had been mis-sold.

February

Telecoms giant BT said that it attracted 122,000 new broadband customers in the final three months of last year as it continued its march on the internet market.

Failed high street camera retailer Jessops was snapped up by a group of buyers that includes Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones.

The East of England Co-operative Society hailed a successful festive season, including its best week ever in the final run-up to Christmas.

The Suffolk Show was going to “bounce back big time”, the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s (SAA) incoming president and sheep farmer Stephen Cobbald promised.

Ipswich Building Society reported another record year for mortgage lending and savings balances.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) published a strategy to help businesses in nine key sectors of the regional economy to grow and create jobs.

Seeds and plants company Thompson & Morgan was creating more than 200 jobs in Ipswich following a reorganisation.

Another grim day for Britain’s high streets yesterday saw a further 164 stores axed by the administrators of DVD and computer games rental chain Blockbuster.

Energy giant EDF prompted calls for greater transparency in pricing as it posted a 7.5% increase in UK profits, just two months after an average 10.8% increasing its charges to 3.7million British households.

The School of Business, Leadership and Enterprise at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) became a Chartered Management Institute-approved centre.

There was further gloom on the UK high street as figures revealed an unexpected fall in January sales after retailers suffered a snow-hit start to the year.

Electricity retail company Haven Power, which employs 350 staff at its Ipswich base, saw its retail sales soar by 60% as it continued to go for growth.

Insurance giant Axa saw its underlying earnings for the UK and Ireland more than double after what its boss described as a “transformation” of its UK businesses.

Work to bring superfast broadband to most households and premises in Suffolk kicked off as representatives from Suffolk County Council and communications giant BT took their places together at the council’s home at Endeavour House.

More than £3billion was set to be invested into new wells in the South North Sea as the gas industry gets set for an upsurge in activity.

Directors of Colchester-based building supplies company Kent Blaxill toasted the company’s 175th anniversary when they met for their first board meeting of the year.

George Osborne was labelled the “downgraded Chancellor” and accused of being in “complete denial” over the loss of the UK’s prized AAA credit rating.

More than 2,100 jobs, including nearly 50 in Suffolk and north Essex, were saved at fashion retailer Republic after the sale by its administrators of 116 stores to Sports Direct International.

March

The owner of British Airways reported an annual loss of nearly 1billion euros amid its struggle to revive Spain’s flagship carrier Iberia.

Budget airline Ryanair called on the UK’s aviation regulator to investigate a 6% increase in airline charges announced by the former owner of Stansted Airport shortly before its sale.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) completed the purchase of Stansted from Heathrow Airport Holdings (formerly BAA), in a £1.5billion deal.

Simon Mead, an experienced entrepreneur with a background in finance, sales and marketing was named as the new chief executive of the Eastern Enterprise Hub.

Camera equipment manufacturer Vitec Videocom, which employed 220 staff at Bury St Edmunds, was set to transfer some of its assembly work from the town’s factory to its site in Costa Rica.

Three meat processing plants in Suffolk and Essex were given a “viable future” after they were acquired by the 2 Sisters Food Group. Dutch-owned Vion, which owned poultry operations in Eye, Witham and Basildon, as well as plants in Scotland and Wales, announced plans in November to exit the UK and sell its businesses here.

Birketts chief executive Alistair Lang was set to stand down, with Jonathan Agar stepping into the role.

The jobs outlook in the East of England was in “excellent” shape, according tio the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.

The UK’s serious fraud squad confirmed that it was investigating computer giant Hewlett-Packard’s claim that it was duped when it bought Cambridge-based software company Autonomy.

The Haven Gateway Partnership’s Low Carbon Freight Dividend, which supports smaller firms in switching freight from road to rail, was extended.

Private equity firm Gordon Brothers Europe bought DVD and games rental chain Blockbuster out of administration.

Unemployment increased for the first time in a year, new figures revealed.

The struggling Ipswich retail economy was given a shot in the arm as plans were finalised for the second phase of Futura Park, home of a flagship John Lewis retail complex, with deals done for all six of its retail units bringing the prospect of new jobs for the town.

Southwold-based brewer Adnams hailed increased annual sales and profits after a year in which the British weather and the rival attraction of the Olympics added to the economic and financial pressures facing the drinks and hospitality sector.

Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones relaunched camera retail chain Jessops – two months after the chain disappeared from the high street following a collapse into administration.

April

Accountancy and business advice firms BDO and PKF confirmed the completion of their merger, first announced last November.

Magnox, the company responsible for 10 UK nuclear power facilities including Sizewell A and Bradwell, agreed an £80million outsourcing contract.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said firms in Suffolk and Norfolk would “now get the helping hand they need” as he launched a £3million business growth fund.

HMV stores in Suffolk and Essex were saved following a deal between the administrators of the struggling entertainment chain and restructuring group Hilco.

Print company Denny Bros of Bury St Edmunds was sent electricity bills totalling more than £60,000 for a factory which had been unoccupied for three years.

Manufacturing in Suffolk was outstripping the performance of the sector across the UK as a whole, according to new figures.

The 2013 Suffolk Show has attracted record sponsorship of around £135,000 as it continued to bounce back from the cancellation of last year’s second day.

Retail giant Marks & Spencer opened a new M&S Simply Food store at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, which created around 70 jobs.

Regional train operator Greater Anglia and tourism promotion body Visit East Anglia teamed up to launch a new package of discounts for tourists and visitors.

Marks & Spencer reported sharply contrasting fortunes as buoyant trading in its food halls helped offset more dismal sales figures in clothing.

Pressure was mounting on former Halifax Bank of Scotland bosses amid anger over mammoth pension pots and nearly £1million of “bonuses for going bust”.

Rob Mears, a top boss at turkey-giant Bernard Matthews, which has a major site near Halesworth, quit the company after four years.

East Anglian-based business advice organisation NWES is on course to help more than 400 firms with cash grants after securing a £4million slice of European funding.

East Anglia-based electricals retailer Hughes took on the under-guarantee and general service work of Beccles-based Taylor Electrical which ceased trading earlier in the year.

Unemployment in the UK rose by 70,000 to 2.56million, the worst figure since last summer, official data revealed.

Supermarket giant Tesco confirmed its first fall in annual profits in nearly 20 years as it counted the cost of abandoning its attempt to break into the United States market.

The 2013 East Anglian Daily Times Business Awards attracted a record total of more than 300 entries.

Premier Foods said the restructuring of its bread business, which includes the closure of a Hovis distribution depot in Suffolk, remained “on track” as it reported a 3.3% increase in sales for its core brands during the first quarter of 2013.

Associated British Foods reported a 5% fall in first-half profits from its sugar business.

More than 600 Lloyds bank branches were to be floated on the stock market under the TSB Bank brand after a deal to sell them to the Co-operative Group collapsed.

Suffolk-based road haulage company Deben Transport strengthened its presence in the north of England by acquiring the assets and business of Elite Transport Services Ltd which went into administration earlier in the month.

Suffolk-based coffee specialist Paddy & Scott’s was nominated for Accelerate 250, a listing of the UK’s top up-and-coming companies which are leading the way in terms of growth and job creation.

May

Aviation regulators unveiled plans for major changes in the way airlines are charged for using London’s three main airports, including Stansted.

Whitbread pledged to step up expansion of its Premier Inn and Costa chains in a move set to create 12,000 jobs over the next five years.

More than 100 businesses from across the county showcased their products and services at the 2013 Suffolk Business Exhibition.

Ipswich won a share of a £1million prize fund created to support the most innovative approaches to managing and improving town centres.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s celebrated an 8.2% profits rise.

Ipswich-based specialist holiday firm Arena Travel expanded its range of holiday services by acquiring First for Bridge Ltd.

Thousands of Wembley-bound Germans were set to give Stansted airport a lift as they headed to the Champions’ League cup final in a fortnight’s time.

The East of England was leading the way for other regions with a 16% rise in exports to countries outside the European Union, said a Government body tasked with driving overseas trade.

The East of England Co-operative Society was aiming to boost its revenues through new stores and a re-energised brand as part of a fightback against the major supermarkets, after a year in which it saw a decline in sales and profits.

Building society bosses in East Anglia remained cautious about the state of the housing market after UK mortgage lenders reported one of their strongest months since 2008.

Framlingham hi-tech firm m2fx, which makes flexible cable for broadband fibre optics, was set to accelerate its growth after securing £2million in funding to help sell its product around the world.

Supporters of a campaign to create a Business Improvement District (BID) for Lowestoft said the future economic development of the town had been secured following an overwhelming “yes” vote by traders in the town.

Managers and staff at Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa were celebrating the award of a four-star rating for the hotel by the AA.

East Anglian law firm Birketts LLP celebrated its 150th anniversary and said a fond farewell to departing chief executive Alistair Lang, who was leaving after 12 years in the role.

Re-launched camera chain Jessops re-opened its store in Ipswich.

June

West Suffolk-based Bennett Homes retained its title as the National Federation of Builders’ House Builder of the Year.

Lending to businesses continued to shrink despite banks drawing down billions from a flagship scheme designed to revitalise Britain’s sluggish economy.

A merger of regional soft drinks companies Britvic and AG Barr was cleared by the Competition Commission.

Unemployment fell by 5,000 to 2.55million in three months to April, while the number of people in work rose 24,000 to a record 29.7million, figures revealed.

Chairman of the New Anglia LEP, Andy Wood, said it was time to end the confusion over skills training in the region and suggested forging a joined up approach between employers, colleges and training providers.

A report co-authored by Suffolk MP Therese Coffey called for businesses to take action to ensure that more top jobs were filled in the future by women.

Outgoing Radio Suffolk breakfast presenter Terry Baxter took on a new role as chairman of Ipswich Central. He took over from retailer William Coe.

Karen Hester, operations director at Adnams, scooped the 2013 First Women Award which recognises organisations that allow women to reach their potential.

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  • Environment Agency Whistleblower Blog: Search for Inside the EA

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    Henry Insidetheea

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