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Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 18 Jan, 2018

Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) has announced a £50 million package of support to its small business customers, as part of a range of emergency measures for those businesses within Carillion’s supply chain which are now in financial difficulty, as a result of Carillion’s liquidation. 

The fund will be open from today and existing small business customers can apply through their usual relationship contacts, who are on hand to support businesses in need of assistance.

The fund is designed to support the working capital needs of small businesses within Carillion’s supply chain that may now be experiencing financial difficulty. It will provide them, subject to credit approval, with arrangement fee-free overdrafts and, for the most severely impacted customers, with capital repayment holidays on loans for an initial six month period, to help with cashflow shortages caused by the liquidation. 

Customers will also be able use the fund to extend or draw new invoice discounting or factoring products, free of arrangement fees.

The Group’s support will also include guidance on working capital requirements to help firms unlock cash so they can manage their way through the difficulties they currently face.

Gareth Oakley, Managing Director, SME Banking, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, commenting on the support packages launched today said: “We know how critical it will be for businesses within Carillion’s supply chain to receive support with their cashflow, to help them through the temporary challenge to their business. The measures launched today will ensure these small businesses have the financial support they need to get themselves back on track. 

Jo Harris, Managing Director, Business Banking, said: “Small businesses don’t normally have the cash reserves that larger businesses do, so any interruption to their cashflow can have a significant impact on their ability to survive. By supporting our small business customers during this difficult time, we hope we can help as many businesses as possible to get back on an even keel as quickly as possible.”

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018
With the introduction of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) are now mapping out how they will meet these ambitious plans.

The five pillars of the industrial strategy being identified as:

  • Ideas: the world’s most innovative economy
  • People: good jobs and greater earning power for all
  • Infrastructure : a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure
  • Business environment: the best place to start and grow a business
  • Places: prosperous communities across the UK

One prominent and serious issue in the region’s educational landscape, and which will compromise hitting these targets, is a lack of the staff to deliver the training to the future generation, be that in the classroom or in Apprenticeships.

The bottom line is that without teachers and trainers in place, there can be no more training of new industry recruits to the standards businesses are looking for.

To begin addressing this issue, a consortium of colleges, comprising SGS, City of Bristol and City of Bath Colleges, in partnership with the Western Training Provider Network (WTPN) and Business West, are working collaboratively to deliver a joint recruitment event to encourage new entrants into the world of training and skills development.

The event is being held on Friday 9th February from 1.30pm at the SGS WISE Campus in Stoke Gifford, Bristol. The event aims to attract a cross section of attendees including those who are retired or coming to retirement age and who want to share their vast knowledge, skilled employees who are interested in flexible employment options to supplement their existing salaries, women looking to return to the workplace, those looking to move from industry into the classroom and anyone at the start of their career path.

SGS College, like many educational institutions in the region, is currently facing major issues recruiting qualified, industry experienced staff in several key sectors including, but not exclusively, Construction, Engineering, Digital and High Tech. Currently the College has over 90 hard to fill vacancies. This is a situation mirrored across the sector within the West of England and in the main is due to the buoyancy of the economy and skilled trainers being able to earn far more in industry than within the skills delivery sector.

One person who is aware of the impact skills shortages are having on the region’s businesses and how those with vast knowledge and experience can make a difference is Ian Mean, Director of Business West, who commented: “Skills and upskilling our workforce in the region is perhaps the greatest challenge for business.

“So, we need to recruit great teachers and trainers for the digital age. A lot of retired people or those nearing retirement with specialist skills could really make a difference to help our young people into the world of work and this event provides an ideal platform to find out more”.

Whilst Sara-Jane Watkins, Principal SGS College comments ‘The inability to recruit and retain high calibre teaching staff is a significant concern to the Colleges within the West of England, and to other Training Providers locally, as without the ability to recruit high-calibre teaching staff with the relevant industry expertise, the Colleges are unable to deliver the West of England's vision for a skilled and qualified workforce - let alone support the Government's delivery of their recently unveiled Industrial Strategy’.

The joint recruitment event will include a key note address on the buoyancy of the economy, the immense opportunities and benefits available within the training sector and the range of flexible posts, both full and part-time.

Full training, development and support will also be provided to those who wish to pursue a career in the areas listed with options to sign up being available on the day.

To register to attend this free event visit: www.sgsrecruitmentevent.eventbrite.co.uk
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Big Interview

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018
Some scientists thrive on theoretical research. Others put research to work. The world needs both. Metrasens’ science saves lives. We talk to CEO Dr Simon Goodyear.

By Nicky Godding

Putting science to work to save and protect people is the story behind Metrasens

Metrasens is a Queen’s Award for Exportwinning company which makes detection systems for medical facilities, prisons and to support anti-terror strategies. Its innovations can detect the tiniest scrap of ferrous metal on, or inside, a human body. Why this is important will soon become clear.

Most of the Malvern-based company’s sales are to hospital MRI facilities where its detection systems are saving lives, and to detect illegal contraband in prisons. It’s now expanding into other markets, including anti-terror.

Deadly magnetic attraction

It’s easy to forget that MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging - and the potential that has for dangerous accidents. MRI scanners have such powerful magnets that any loose or unidentified ferrous metal will be drawn forcefully towards the magnet when it’s switched on. But install Metrasen’s Ferroguard system at the MRI facility’s entrance and a warning light will flash when anything containing ferrous metal, however small, crosses the threshold.

Every year across the world there are deaths and injuries to people in MRI facilities who forget this basic physics. One death in particular gave birth to the product.

CEO and Metrasens’ co-founder, Simon Goodyear, explains. “In 2001 one of our co-founders, Dr Mark Keene, was in San Diego attending a land mine conference. Returning to the hotel he switched on CNN. A six-year-old child, Michael Colombini, had been killed while undergoing a brain scan. His oxygen had run out and the MRI technnologists had temporarily left the MRI room unguarded. The agitated anesthetist was calling out ‘I need oxygen’. A passing nurse thought she was helping when she grabbed an oxygen cylinder and dashed into the room. The powerful magnetic forces pulled the steel MRI-unsafe cylinder out of her hands and it went flying across the room at around 40 miles an hour in a violent spin. It hit the little boy, killing him. “Mark knew we could have stopped that happening and the idea for our Ferroguard product was born.”

At the time Mark and Simon were working at QinetiQ in Malvern with their other co-founder, Matt Wooliscroft. Then it was called The Royal Signals Radar Establishment and undertook fundamental research to support the UK military.

Simon, a physicist, was in the magnetics team making equipment for land and sea mine detection systems, and submarine tracking, but spent much of his time there researching and submitting papers to the MOD.

They discussed the Colombini case and knew they had the solution to an underreported but massive global problem. Simon took out a license agreement for some of the work the team had done on Putting science to work to save and protect people is the story behind Metrasens magnetics with QinetiQ, and in 2005 they set up Metrasens.

“There are 27,000 MRI scanners in the world. While the number of deaths is small, the number of incidents is huge. It is a well-defined market which, for a start-up business is quite attractive, and we could see huge future potential to expand into the security market,” explains Simon.

Angel investment kick-starts growth

For two years the founders invested their own money into building prototypes and engaging with the investment community, all from Simon’s garage and spare room.

He was also commuting to the USA to secure interest in the product from the world’s largest MRI scanner market.

The project won £250,000 angel investment from Worcestershire investment group, The Claret Club, supported by West Midlands Advantage Business Angels, and the team also secured grants of around £100,000. This enabled the business, which had already secured orders from the USA, to establish itself properly. In 2007 the business moved into Malvern Science Park on favourable start-up terms.

“Our business angels liked the fact that we were already selling our product when they invested,” explains Simon.

The company’s first sale was to the Cardiff brain imaging Cubric Centre. Its second was to CalTech, a big research university in California.

By 2010 the company had secured over half a million pounds in sales, which attracted venture capital investment from Octopus Ventures. Annual turnover is now over £10 million, representing a phenomenal 90% year-on-year growth.

For Simon, this is just the start. “Eighty per cent of our sales are in the US. But we will be a global company. The MRI market is 50% US, 50% the rest of the world. The security market, where we are now very active, is 50/50, possibly more outside the US.”

Metrasens has focused on building its business in North America (Simon moved his family to Chicago three years’ ago to grow the business in its biggest potential market), but the heart of the company will always remain in Malvern where the fundamental research takes place.

The company also manufactures in Malvern, and that’s also not going to change in the foreseeable future, he says.

“Our USA subsidiary, Metrasens Inc, employs around 30 people and we will soon have 45 in the UK. Last year we manufactured around 2,000 products,” says Simon.

“We are a high quality, high value product. Quality and performance are key to our sales proposition, so full production control is core to our business, and that stays in the United Kingdom.”

Making the world a safer place

MRI safety was Metrasens’ first product, and its ferromagnetic metal detectors are installed in front of MRI facilities and associated changing rooms all over the world. Across the UK there are just 50 Metrasens systems being used in a country with 450 MRI systems, but the company’s product has secured widespread adoption across the USA, the Middle East and Asia.

Making prisons safer

The company’s second product, Cellsense, detects illegal mobile phones in prisons. It is now deployed in all UK prisons, and a large proportion of USA state prisons.

Cellsense can detect mobile phones, weapons and drug paraphernalia. “Most contraband in prison will have some element of ferrous material in which our system can detect,” explains Simon. “All prisons have fixed checkpoints, but prisoners have plenty of time to work out how to get around them. Our detection systems can be set up in seconds, anywhere.”

Conventional security systems are not infallible, and iPhones are mostly non metallic and glass. Added to that are the lengths prisoners will go to in concealment. Contraband can be secreted in bodily orifices, and cellphones are available the size of a keyfob. “One facility at Sun Valley in California found over 100 mobile phones in one day using our systems,” says Simon. “Two weeks later at another prison they found a further 47. We have given the prison system a tool to protect not only prison officers, but prisoners too, because they use contraband against each other.”

Subtle surveillance

Metrasens is also gaining attention from the mental health profession after an incident closer to home.

Simon explains: “I understand a patient staying in a Gloucester mental health day facility was told he was going to be moved somewhere else. He didn’t want to go, so went out and bought a knife. He returned and stabbed the first member of staff he came across. The nurse died. The head of security trialled our system, comparing it to traditional archway and hand-held metal detectors, to help stop people smuggling in weapons for potential attacks, and also to combat self-harming.”

The Metrasens system detected 100% of illegal items. Existing hand-held detectors, even in the hands of trained people, detected 5% or fewer.

Metrasens equipment is now deployed in around 30 UK mental health facilities and has been launched into the US market. “It also helps maintain patient dignity,” says Simon. “The last thing they want to do when they go in and out of the facility is to undergo airport-style security. Our solution is more subtle, it can even be covert.”

Preventing terror and cyber-attacks

Metrasens is helping protect data centres globally and is about to launch a product which could help prevent devastating ‘loan wolf’ attacks seen in Europe, such as at the Manchester Arena bombing, and in the USA.

It sounds almost too good to be true. “Our system will screen up to 50 people a minute without disruption. It’s had a real impact in North America and we are exploring this technology with the UK government as well.”

The system will allow people carrying normal objects to walk by, but people with long weapons or suicide belts will be detected. Metrasens offers hugely effective security protection. But Simon says it’s just one layer. “X-ray, milimetre wave and other technologies could be used in conjunction with ours. It’s about looking at the risk and if ferrous metals are a risk (and they very often are) then you should deploy our products.

“We will continue to use solutions from science and physics to make the world a safer place.”
Big Interview

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018
Keeping the lights on, building a skilled, diverse workforce and showcasing the UK’s nuclear expertise are top of the agenda for EDF Energy’s Brian Cowell

By Nicky Godding

EDF Energy is the UK’s largest producer of low carbon energy, the UK’s biggest electricity producer, and the largest electricity supplier to British businesses.

EDF Energy’s UK headquarters, and 2,000 of its over 6,500 employees, are based at Barnwood, Gloucester and since September 2017, its Managing Director of Generation has been Brian Cowell.

EDF Energy operates all eight UK nuclear power plants. It’s currently building the £19 billion nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C, which will provide 25,000 job opportunities and 1,000 apprenticeships. “The technology of using fission to generate heat to generate steam is simple and it is beyond any doubt that the project will be successful and will provide 7% of the UK’s power,” says Brian.

However, nuclear is only a part of EDF’s energy generation, the business also operates 36 UK wind farms, a gas station, two coal-fired stations, two gas storage sites and is building the UK’s largest battery storage site, at West Burton, Nottinghamshire.

Nuclear power is controversial. It’s also expensive, perceived by some as dangerous and vocal renewable energy activists would have us believe that all we need to keep the lights on is wind, wave, sun and as yet not fully tested new sources of generation such as tidal lagoon power.

But with UK energy demand predicted to rise 20% by 2030, the incontrovertible fact is that without nuclear power, the lights would go out. Nuclear will remain a fundamental part of this country’s energy mix for the foreseeable future.

EDF Energy’s safety record is impressive, and is an overriding priority for the company. So strongly does it feel that it’s had the sentiment carved in stone outside its Barnwood HQ, and is keen to widen public awareness of its nuclear track record and capabilities.

Spreading the word

In his previous role as EDF Energy’s Director of Nuclear Operations, Brian began reopening the company’s nuclear sites visitor centres.

“I came into the industry in 1977. Then we were told that we were all providing a wonderful service without which society cannot function. That sentiment has stuck with me and I think of my fantastic team here at Barnwood as providing a great service to the UK. However, like many government services, we can’t necessarily rely on public understanding of what we do and how we do it.”

The UK’s nuclear visitor centres were closed after 9/11. Since reopening in 2013, they’ve welcomed half a million visitors. “The visitor centres encourage people to become more familiar with the technology and less afraid of it,” says Brian. “For me, it’s also about countering negative arguments from the green lobby. We are not secretive – I’ll even let you stand on a nuclear reactor’s pile cap.”

Public surveys show support for nuclear remaining largely flat over the last 20 years, despite hard lobbying against, (more than 50% of people would be content to see new nuclear power stations replacing current ones at the end of life), but opposition remains.

“All I want is to ensure an honest, emotionless debate about securing energy supplies for the UK,” says Brian.

“The country has committed to remove carbon emissions, but we must keep security of supply and climate change in balance.”

Brian is well qualified to argue for nuclear. He started working for the SSEB (South of Scotland Electricity Board) in 1977 as an apprentice, moving into nuclear where he’s built a long and successful career.

In the mid-1990s the government privatised the UK’s nuclear power plants. The SSEB and Central Electricity Genertion Board (CEGB) became British Energy, which was bought by the Frenchowned EDF Group in 2009.

Last October Brian, who lives with his wife Gillian at Winchcombe, was honoured by the World Association of Nuclear Operators for promoting excellence in the safe operation of commercial nuclear power.

Extending power station life

Built in the 1960s and 70s, the UK’s nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their lives. However, research and innovation by the boffins at Barnwood is keeping them active for as long as it is safe and commercially viable to do so.

“We have a massive database telling us how different plants, systems and components behave within their operating cycle,” says Brian. “We identify single point vulnerabilities and eradicate them by intervening early. We are now seeing over 90% reliability in our plants, which is fantastic, but we continue to push for even greater achievements.”

What will take the nuclear power stations offline is the integrity of their graphite core: each has 6,000 graphite blocks wrapped up in a huge steel enclosure. EDF Energy monitors the graphite cores constantly. “We predict that the older stations will come offline in the mid 2020s,” explains Brian. “We are very, very conservative and what will take them offline is any safety margin erosion. Think of a cup of coffee in the middle of a large table. There is a huge margin of safety before it could fall off. We would never let the cup get anywhere near the edge of the table.”

Last year EDF Energy reported record-breaking safety and operational performance, but there is no complacency. “Our biggest drive is to make sure they remain safe and it’s economic to keep running these power stations for as long as they can provide a service to the UK.”

Getting involved in the local community

EDF Energy supports local community initiatives, including the Cheltenham Science Festival, which takes place every June, and a very active ‘adopt a school’ programme run by young EDF Energy professionals who create links between schools and the company. Its Barnwood team has also developed a close relationship with the National Star College at Cheltenham, and has piloted the hugely successful ‘Steps into Work’ programme that helps young adults with disabilities into work.

More nuclear power plants for the UK

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is the first new nuclear plant to be built in the UK for a generation, and there are plans for more. EDF Energy is hoping to build another at Sizewell, Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex. Other power providers also have ambitions. NuGen, owned by Toshiba, is hoping to build a nuclear plant in West Cumbria and Horizon Nuclear Power, owned by Hitachi Ltd, has plans for a plant in North Wales.

While there is ongoing debate as to the final cost to the consumer of energy generated by Hinkley Point C, the capital cost of the development is being met by EDF Group and its Chinese investors. As more nuclear power stations are built, the cost of energy should drop, says EDF Energy. The price negotiated with the UK government reflected the market conditions at the time and EDF Energy accepts that future new nuclear will have to be more competitive.

Battery powered Britain

EDF Energy is constructing Europe’s biggest battery storage site. It will have 49 megawatts of storage at West Burton, Nottinghamshire and be part of a new 200 MW enhanced frequency response system to balance the UK grid. The facility will be up and running in early 2018.

The site will hold 54,000 battery cells, each roughly the size of a briefcase. With the growth in renewable generation and the closure of large power plants, battery storage technology supports the national grid network. The technology can be used to respond quickly to fluctuations in the electricity grid for when the wind isn’t blowing enough or too much, or when the sun isn’t shining.

Building careers at EDF Energy

When Brian began working as an apprentice, only 20% of young people went to university, and he did his degree later.

This democratic approach to recruitment has continued within the company. While there are over 240 people who have PhDs working at Barnwood, the company also employs over 200 apprentices.

“The great thing about this industry is that you can come in as an apprentice or graduate, and over the years you will decide for yourself where your career can take you,” says Brian. “You could be the best maintenance technician in the UK, with a great work life balance. Or you might want to follow a more academic route.

“We are also very good at allowing people to find a position within the company which suits their strengths, work-life preferences and family circumstances.”

Out of EDF’s latest crop of graduating apprentices, 35% are female, the highest proportion it’s ever achieved, but Brian wants more. Currently just one in five people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is female. EDF Energy’s campaign, ‘Pretty Curious’, aims to inspire teenage girls to imagine a future in the sector. Currently over 50,000 young people have attended an EDF Energy ‘Pretty Curious’ event.

“I used to say that life is a meritocracy and if you’re good you’ll get on,” says Brian.

“But I have come to realise that it’s a meritocracy only if everyone has the same role models, opportunities and their career is not impacted by taking time off for family. We have to make it a level playing field by finding ways to accommodate different preferences not only for women, but for all our workforce. We want to let people play to their strengths.”
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