Latest Posts

  1. NPIF – Maven Equity Finance leads £1m investment in Airtime Rewards

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    NPIF – Maven Equity Finance, part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners (“Maven”), one of the UK’s most active SME investors has invested £750,000, as part of a £1m investment round, in Airtime Rewards Ltd (“Airtime”).Government Opportunities

    Manchester based Airtime is an innovative digital customer loyalty programme which enables shoppers to be rewarded, with a unique reward currency, that can be converted into a monetary credit for their mobile phone or for additional mobile data. Airtime will use the funding to expand the business by strengthening its sales and customer services functions, as well as implement further developments to its infrastructure and market-disruptive technology platform.

    Established by two serial entrepreneurs, Adam Ward and Josh Graham, Airtime’s disruptive technology solution removes the need to carry multiple loyalty cards and instead intelligently capitalises on two of the most commonly carried items – an individual’s mobile phone and their bank card. This has created a linear, and unobtrusive loyalty scheme which provides instant rewards, at no inconvenience, for the customer. Airtime effectively removes the need for multiple loyalty cards, cashback accounts or promo codes, and instead rewards customers through everyday transactions made on their debit or credit cards.

    With many recognised retail chains already signed up, such as Waitrose, Missguided and Sunglass Hut, the solution rewards members every time they transact with their linked payment cards. Instead of collecting points, consumers receive a monetary credit back to their mobile account or can opt to take additional mobile phone data.

    Airtime has agreements in place with all of the UK’s major mobile network operators; the company’s technology has been integrated into global payment schemes such as Visa and MasterCard. In addition, Telefonica is a strategic partner and an early investor in Airtime Rewards and has also participated in this latest investment round. Airtime’s proposition benefits all parties by providing a simple and tangible way for customers to earn rewards for purchases, while enabling retailers and mobile phone operators to capitalise on increased customer spend and frequency of visit.

    There are a number of businesses that operate in the loyalty space but none of these offer a universal mobile digital currency as a reward offering. Most are simply based around a traditional loyalty card and points collection system of which have been improved via ‘wallet’ technology; however, these do not offer a unique digital currency that can be spent anywhere like Airtime. In addition, forthcoming regulations including the Open Banking and PSD2 initiatives will enable Airtime to expand its services outside of the UK with only minimal feature changes, facilitating entry to a significant new market.

    Maven was appointed manager of the £57.5 million equity fund in February 2017, part of the £400 million Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, a partnership between the British Business Bank, ten Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North of England, the European Investment Bank and the European Regional Development Fund. NPIF – Maven Equity Finance is now supporting the growth aspirations of high-potential SMEs across Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Cumbria and Cheshire.

    The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

    Maven Capital Partners UK LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Firm Reference Number 495929.

    James Darlington, Investment Manager at Maven, said:

    “We are delighted to support Airtime in realising its growth strategy. The company’s offering is exciting and innovative – allowing users to transact and redeem their rewards easily and in a way that best suits their lifestyles. Adam and Josh have worked tirelessly, achieving a great deal of success within a short timeframe and with minimal resources. They have positioned the business well and this investment will allow them to fast track the company’s performance. We look forward to working with them to drive the business over the next few years.”

  2. Defence Secretary outlines plans for Indo-Pacific security at global summit

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    The Defence Secretary was among several high-profile speakers at the 17th annual Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit, in Singapore, where he emphasised the need for partners to come together to tackle shared and increasing challenges.Government Opportunities

    Before heading to the summit, the Defence Secretary travelled to Malaysia, where he met with his new counterpart, Mohamad bin Sabu.

    From there, he travelled to Brunei to observe a display of skills from British jungle forces posted there, as well as taking time to speak to the soldiers and their families personally.

    The Defence Secretary then moved onto the final leg of the trip, in Singapore, to attend the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue.

    After listening to heads of state and other notable figures, as well as holding private bilateral meetings, Mr Williamson formed part of an expert panel alongside representatives from France and Singapore to discuss improving regional security co-operation.

    A Memorandum of Understanding, strengthening defence ties between the UK and Singapore, was signed in the margins of the summit by Mr Williamson and his counterpart Ng Eng Hen.

    He then visited personnel on board HMS Sutherland, which was docked nearby as one of three British ships that will form a largely unbroken naval presence in the region through 2018.

    Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

    “Standing united with allies is the most effective way to counter the intensifying threats we face from countries that don’t respect international rules.

    Together with our friends and partners we will work on a more strategic and multinational approach to the Indian Ocean region – focussing on security, stability and environmental sustainability to protect our shared prosperity.”

  3. John Tizard: Councillors must be contract aware – outsourcing is political

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    Most local authorities of all political persuasions currently outsource some of their services to the private sector. Some outsource more than others. Increasingly, authorities are bringing outsourced services back in-house – ‘in-sourcing’ as it is called.  Such in-sourcing is being pursued by council leaders from all the major parties.

    John Tizard

    There are many reasons why local authorities are questioning the efficacy of outsourcing. These include

    • a lack of evidence that it produces the desired outcomes
    • the many examples of failure including but not exclusively the Carillion fiasco
    • the transaction costs of procurement and contract management
    • a paucity of in-house capacity to undertake procurement and contract management
    • the inflexibility, especially service and financial inflexibility, of long-term contracts
    • a lack of truly competitive suppliers for many critical services
    • a desire for greater democratic control and accountability
    • public opinion questioning the role of business and profits being made, especially from core personal services

    There are many other reasons and each local authority will have its own.

    Ultimately, the decision to outsource or to deliver services in-house or perhaps through a partnership with the voluntary and community sector or through shared service arrangements with other public bodies, is a political one.

    This means that council leaders, cabinet members, members of scrutiny committees and indeed all councillors need to play a role. They need to know what questions to ask; what is possible – legally and operationally; what services are currently outsourced; and what the local authority’s policies and practices are, and the capacity and quality of their procurement teams.

    To support councillors with these and related issues David Walker and I have produced a toolkit for councillors – ‘Out of Contract’. It has been published by the New Economics Foundation, or NEF. It can be found at

    The toolkit addresses issues such as how to

    • have detailed information and data on every contract available and published
    • review these contracts with a view to renegotiating or bringing back in-house
    • review policy, set the default option as being in-house provision and align procurement policy and practice with wider political objectives
    • ensure that procurement, contracting and contract / contractor performance are subject to councillor scrutiny, transparency and accountability
    • in-source and bring outsourced services back in-house

    and if there is to be any outsourcing, to

    • involve stakeholders in the decision-making process and formally consult on the business case prior to procurement
    • ensure that the public interest and public value are secured
    • contract with ethical companies
    • protect staff interests and ensure decent employment terms and conditions
    • partner with the voluntary and community sector – usually avoiding competitive tendering and using grants where appropriate

    There is a need for national regulation and guidance on all these matters and more widely in respect of outsourcing, but local government can do much to change the landscape without having to wait for central government. Indeed, local government can show the way for central government and others in the public sector to follow.

    The NEF councillors’ toolkit hopefully will stimulate political debate and enable councillors including council leaders – and council officers too – to have the confidence to move on from the New Public Management and associated political and technical cultures of believing that markets, competition and outsourcing to the private sector should be the norm. Or that such approaches always lead to better public services, for blatantly they do not.

  4. Healthier school food

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    Expert recommendations to make school food and drink even healthier are being consulted on by the Scottish Government.school_144774Small

    Strict rules already apply to the nutritional content of meals, drinks and snacks served in schools.

    Following a review by health, nutrition and education experts, views are being sought on proposals to further reduce sugar and other measures to promote healthy choices and help tackle childhood obesity.

    The proposals include:

    • Increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables with a minimum of two portions of veg and a portion of fruit to be offered as part of a school lunch
    • Introducing lower sugar limits, for example for foods such as breakfast cereal and yoghurts
    • Reducing how often sweetened and baked goods are available in primary schools
    • No longer permitting fruit juice and smoothies to be offered in primary and secondary schools
    • Introducing a new regulation for red meat which specifies, for the first time, how much of a child’s weekly intake should be high-quality produce and limits the amount of processed meat

    Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

    “More than 360,000 meals are dished up in Scottish schools every day, setting children and young people up for their lessons and – through learning about healthy habits – for life.

    While our internationally acclaimed nutritional standards are already very high, we want to go further to promote healthy, high quality food and drink and help tackle childhood obesity.

    The proposals we are putting forward are based on the latest scientific and expert advice, as well as the views of local authorities, schools and catering staff. I urge everyone with an interest in school food to have their say.”

  5. £5 billion investment to transform rail services across Wales

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    Rail passengers across Wales and its borders can look forward to the transformation of their rail services thanks to a £5 billion investment that will fund significant improvements to the frequency and quality of Wales and Borders services, as well as the creation of the South Wales

    Following a rigorous procurement process under the Utilities Contracts Regulations 2016, First Minister Carwyn Jones today (Monday 4 June) announced the Welsh Government has contracted KeolisAmey to operate and develop the Wales and Borders rail service and South Wales Metro working in partnership with Transport for Wales.

    The 15-year contract will run from 4 June, 2018 until 16 October, 2033, with KeolisAmey taking over the Wales and Borders rail service from Arriva Trains Wales on 14th October, 2018.

    A joint venture partnership of international public transport operator Keolis with infrastructure asset management specialist Amey, KeolisAmey will work in partnership with Transport for Wales, running all services under the Transport for Wales brand.

    Transport for Wales is the not-for-profit company driving forward the Welsh Government’s vision of a high-quality, safe, integrated, affordable and accessible transport network in Wales.

    The First Minister, with Transport Secretary Ken Skates, announced the new contract at a special event at the Railway Training Centre at Coleg y Cymoedd, Nantgarw, accompanied by Keolis President Jean-Pierre Farandou and Amey Chief Executive Officer Andy Milner.

    The announcement comes as rail powers are devolved to the Welsh Government. This follows detailed discussions between the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government.

    The agreement takes into account the fact that many of the rail services operate on both sides of the border between England and Wales and includes safeguards to protect all passengers using these routes.

    Major benefits of the new Wales and Borders rail contract include:

    • An additional 600 staff will be recruited to deliver the service in a range of roles and 450 new apprenticeships (30 every year) will also be created over the life of the contract.
    • £1.9 billion will be invested in improving passengers’ travel experience, including an £800 million investment in trains, boosting overall service capacity by 65 per cent.
    • All trains will be replaced by 2023 when 95 per cent of journeys will be on brand new trains, half of which will be assembled in Wales.
    • £194 million will be invested to modernise all 247 stations and build four new stations: Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and the Flourish.
    • Stations will be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy, at least 50 per cent of which will be sourced in Wales. This is just one of the ways that the new service will contribute to achieving the policy goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
    • Investment in active travel initiatives will include the installation of new cycle lockers and a target to achieve Secure Station accreditation for all stations.
    • Passengers will start to see improvements in service levels from December 2018, with increased capacity on the valleys lines and new services between Chester and Liverpool.
    • By the end of 2023, passengers will be able to take advantage of an additional 285 services each weekday across Wales (a 29 per cent increase). This will include improvements to the Ebbw Vale and Wrexham – Bidston lines as well as the Cambrian and Heart of Wales lines.
    • Sunday services will be boosted by 61 per cent with an additional 294 services across Wales, creating a true seven-day-a-week service.
    • Smart ticketing will ensure that fares are more flexible and cheaper off-peak fares will be introduced including fare reductions in North Wales and at approximately 50 per cent of stations in the valleys.
    • New technology will also help to reduce disruption and improve services.
    • In response to customer demand, more frequent trains, reduced journey times and more flexible fares will make travelling easier and more cost effective.
    • Greater capacity and improved services will also help to maximise the economic development opportunities provided by the new service, enabling people to take advantage of more and better employment opportunities.

    The First Minister said:

    “This is an important moment for transport in Wales and begins a new chapter for rail services in this country.

    The way we shaped this procurement was different. We put passengers’ priorities at the centre of our thinking and threw out a challenge to all of the bidders to address the concerns they had about seat capacity, journey times and service frequency. People said they wanted affordable fares and newer, cleaner trains and we have worked hard to ensure this is reflected in what we are launching today.

    This is a chance not simply to build a modern, forward looking transport system, but to use it as an important tool to shape the life of the nation around us. This is a landmark moment in the future development of Wales.”

  6. Improving energy efficiency

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    More homeowners will be able to carry out energy efficiency work and improvements on their properties as a pilot scheme expands.houses_8880129Sml

    The HEEPS (Home Energy Efficiency Programme Scotland) scheme lets homeowners on low incomes borrow up to £40,000 for energy efficiency improvements and essential repairs, including the installation of a new boiler, double glazing or repairs to reduce heat loss – which will be repaid when they sell their home or transfer ownership.

    The scheme was launched in January 2017 in three local authority areas (Glasgow City, Argyll and Bute, and Perth and Kinross) and has now been extended to include Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, Stirling, Dundee and the Western Isles until March 2019.

    Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said:

    “Whether it’s fitting insulation or fixing a leaking roof, the expansion of this scheme will allow more homeowners across Scotland to take action to keep their energy bills down.

    This is the latest in a package of measures to improve energy efficiency and tackle disrepair. We have recently consulted on a new fuel poverty strategy, including a new definition and target, that will inform a Fuel Poverty Bill to be laid before Parliament this summer.”

  7. New £63 million defence scheme is turning the tide against floods in Rossall

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    A multi-million pound coastal defence scheme to shore up Rossall’s sea defences while reducing flood risk to 7,500 homes ws officially opened on Friday (1st June 2018). It is one of the single biggest investments in a single coastal flood scheme to date.Government Opportunities

    Led by Wyre Council, in partnership with the Environment Agency and main contractor Balfour Beatty, the new scheme is made up of two kilometres of sea defences. It forms one of the three projects being delivered by the Fylde Peninsula Coastal Programme Partnership, alongside the recently completed Anchorsholme Coastal Protection Scheme in Blackpool and the Fairhaven to Church Scar Coastal Protection Scheme in Lytham.

    Designed for the next 100 years to hold back the Irish Sea during major storms, the Rossall flood defences will provide better protection to the town’s tramway, hospital and schools whilst reducing flood risk to 7,500 homes. The scheme comprises of 1.84km of sheet piles, more than 10,000 specially manufactured precast concrete units, 211,000 tonnes of stone, 46,000m3 of insitu concrete and 327,000 tonnes of locally sourced rock from 12 quarries across the north of the UK. The scheme is one of the single biggest investments the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has made in a coastal flood scheme to date.

    The Environment Agency builds climate change projections into the design of all of its flood defences to make sure they are fit for the future. So, aside from being an impressive piece of infrastructure within its own right, the Rossall scheme is helping in the fight against climate change by taking into account changing circumstances in sea level rise and weather patterns over the next 100 years.

    Construction of the scheme has also allowed for improvements to the local environment as part of the new defences. This has included the creation of a new ecology park on the landward side of the defences to enhance the area through its visual impact and environmental footprint.

    Known as Larkholme Grasslands, the park has been designed by Lancashire County Council with bridges and artwork by Stephen Broadbent, a British sculptor who specialises in public art. This strip of grassland, from West Way to Fleetwood Golf Club, is already classed as a Biological Heritage Site because of the rarer species of flora and fauna that grow there.

    The completion of the scheme delivers on a long-held vision to not only create a lagoon area behind the new defences – to act as an additional flood storage for spray coming over the seawall – but also to provide a home for local wildlife and a new green space for residents and tourists to enjoy.

    The park will also feature specially created sculptures by Stephen Broadbent, and, in a nod to the folklore and myth surrounding the local coastline, the new seawall at Rossall continues the story of The Sea Swallow, cementing its place on the Mythic Coast.

    Beginning at Cleveleys, visitors to the site can follow an artwork and poetry trail from the popular children’s book until the story ends at Rossall Point Observation Tower. Characters from The Sea Swallow, including a giant stainless steel seashell and sea ogre carved from limestone, can also be spotted along the picturesque walk.

    Defra Minister David Rutley said:

    “Rossall’s new coastal defence scheme has been made possible thanks not only to significant government funding, but also the huge support of local government and other partners. The result is positive news for the community – regenerating the area, creating an ecology park and providing better protection for 7,500 properties from the risk of flooding.

    I also welcome the fact these vital defences have been constructed using local materials and expertise, supporting industry and the economy in the North West of England.”

  8. £2.5m to develop new ways to tackle respiratory disease in Wales

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    Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething, has announced £2.5m of funding to develop new ways to prevent and treat respiratory disease.Government Opportunities

    The money will be used to create a Respiratory Innovation Centre, bringing together health professionals, academic and business people to more quickly develop, test and implement innovative methods to tackle respiratory illness.

    By helping to make new products and services commercially viable the Centre will also help create jobs and support economic growth as well as the obvious health benefits for patients.

    The funding is for three years after which time it is expected the Centre will become self-financing by generating profits and drawing in funding from other sources. Three sites within the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University and Hywel Dda University Health Board areas are being considered to house the centre and a decision on that will be announced shortly.

    It will be the first innovation centre for respiratory disease in the UK.

    Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething said:

    “Improving the respiratory health of the people of Wales is a major challenge for our healthcare services. In 2016-17, 8% of the Welsh population reported having a respiratory condition, and respiratory diseases caused just over 15% of deaths in 2016. This new centre will identify promising new ideas to prevent, diagnose and treat respiratory disease and help develop them into products and services that can be used by the health service.”