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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 19 November 2007

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ACCORDING to figures, home working is well on its way to becoming the norm amongst the UK’s SMEs. 29% small businesses allows at least 10% of their workforce to work from home on a regular basis. 6% have over half their employees working from home regularly.

The research, from car hire firm Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is the latest evidence pointing towards a drastic shift in modern working practices.  The trend is forcing companies to think more carefully about how they work, with SMEs in particular facing the issue of how to bring employees together. Gone are the days when team meetings were straightforward or getting people out to meet a client was easy.

The various technological advances which have facilitated “virtual teams,” such as teleconferencing and blackberries, can help a great deal. Face to face meetings, though, present different challenges.  Employees travelling from their own homes to offsite meetings can create significant issues. The transport solution for home workers currently includes a mix of their own cars, pool cars, public transport, hire cars and taxis. However, some of these options fall short of fulfilling the duty of care and environmental responsibilities faced by all modern businesses.

Rob Ingram, UK business development manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, comments:- “The home worker phenomenon is creating a completely different working culture in the UK and SMEs are at the forefront. The trend makes perfect sense for small businesses as it keeps overheads down and fits in well with the entrepreneurial spirit that the sector exemplifies. But SMEs do need to be aware of the issues home working can create.  Transport is potentially the biggest area of concern. Simply relying on employees to use their own cars can throw up all sorts of environmental and duty of care issues. The cost of paying mileage reimbursement to employees can also pile up, so options such as public transport, leasing cars and hire vehicles should all be considered.”

Liverpool cabbies on board for 08

VISITORS to Liverpool can look forward to a cultural conversation next time they hail a cab in the city.  The Liverpool Culture Company and Merseytravel are giving out free information packs to the city’s hackney cab drivers to equip them for next year’s European Capital of Culture celebrations.  A team of 08 Volunteers will be visiting Liverpool’s city centre and airport taxi ranks over the next week to distribute the packs, which contain a 2008 events calendar and foreign language phrase book, along with a DVD giving advice on customer service.

Councillor Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool city council and deputy chair of the Liverpool Culture Company, said:- “Liverpool is expecting an extra 1.7 million visitors during 2008 and we want to ensure that each and every one of them receives the warmest of welcomes to our amazing city.  Taxi drivers are frequently the first people visitors meet when they arrive in Liverpool – especially at the airport and train stations – so they are often responsible for creating that all-important first impression.  But this scheme isn’t just about improving customer service, it’s also a way of making sure that taxi drivers feel involved and engaged in the Capital of Culture celebrations.”

Cllr Mark Dowd, chairman of Merseytravel, said:-  “First impressions last and we want to ensure taxi drivers have the support and information they need to make sure the impression they leave is the best it can be.  Taxis are an important part of any successful transport network and we hope as many as possible continue to be ambassadors, not only for Liverpool, but for the whole of Merseyside.”

Each pack includes a special quiz made up of 50 questions testing taxi drivers’ knowledge of Liverpool’s history, heritage and culture. The first 500 male and 100 female drivers to return the quiz with 40 or more correct answers will win a special Liverpool 08 polo shirt (with a logo on the back for the benefit of their passengers!).  The taxi driver packs are part of the 08 Welcome initiative, launched in 2005, which is designed to improve Liverpool’s customer service offer in the build-up to European Capital of Culture. Working with a number of strategic partners, the Culture Company has put more than 2,000 front line customer service staff through the ‘welcome’ training course, including more than 500 hackney cab drivers. The course – which teaches individuals the fundamentals of good customer service – has been so successful that Liverpool’s licensing authority has now made it mandatory for all new drivers.

Kris Donaldson, acting chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company, said:- “This pack is part of a wider programme of work that puts customer service staff right at the heart of Liverpool’s preparations for Capital of Culture.  We want everyone who deals with the public – whether they drive a cab or pull pints in a pub – to act as ambassadors for Liverpool, and take an active role in promoting their city and all the great things that are happening here.”

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