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Business leaders check crystal ball to see what future holds

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As the last of the Christmas tinsel is packed away, business leaders have been reflecting on 2017, and looking into their crystal ball to predict what 2018 holds for companies in Swindon and Wiltshire.

Ian LarrardIan LarrardIan Larrard, director at Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative, Business West

After a dramatic 2016, many of us were perhaps expecting 2017 to be something like the morning after the night before, and for businesses facing up to the realities of Brexit, their headache could not be remedied with a full English either.

Skills shortages, delayed orders, supply chain issues are just some of the very real impacts businesses are experiencing in advance of Brexit, not to mention the uncertainty that has dogged their decision making capabilities throughout this year.

Whereas the snap election was meant to strengthen the Government’s hand in the Brexit negotiations, it turned out to be something of an own-goal for Mrs May, weakening her majority in the Commons.

This, in addition to business rates, interest rates and red-tape fed into a growing sense of malaise amongst business owners, who in 2017 began to feel that Government is no longer on their side. But things seems to have turned a corner in recent weeks.

The fug around Brexit is gradually lifting. There was a breakthrough in negotiations earlier this month, with both negotiating parties guaranteeing the right to remain for UK citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK. We know that a transitional deal is probable, Irish border issues are solvable and differences between London and Brussels are not insurmountable.

For the UK economy as a whole, Government got the basics right in its Industrial Strategy whitepaper. Skills investment pledges and new measures to support and scale up tech businesses are also to be welcomed.

The hangover of 2017 has been punctuated with positive new developments and new beginnings for Swindon & Wiltshire - helping to ease it somewhat.

In terms of transport, the new GWR trains on the London line are up and running, and, although frustrating, J16 and J17 of the M4 will see great improvements once completed.

How about skills? Always challenging but there are signs of initiatives that could be very exciting for the area.

As regards housing, completion rates are good and outline planning granted for a major start to New Eastern Villages of up to 2,380 dwellings.
The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery bid has been submitted to Heritage Lottery Fund and we eagerly await visits and decisions in the early part of 2018.

Switch on to Swindon has been a great success and much more is planned for the forthcoming year.

The Carriage Works project is about to go live and there are great prospects afoot for the SnowDome and Leisure Complex on the North Star site where outline planning was granted in mid-November.

Honda and BMW continue to flourish with great news about the electric Mini starting in production in 2019.

So, despite the hangover, enough good has happened in 2017 to leave me feeling optimistic about the year ahead.

However, my advice for the New Year remains the same. Plan for the worst. Hope for the best.

Government will aim to gain maximum access to EU markets while reclaiming sovereignty (not easy). GDPR comes into force on 25 May and fines are potentially heavy. Inflation is on the rise. Growth is stagnating.

So, yes, there will be challenges, but equally some great opportunities ahead locally.

Paddy BradleyPaddy BradleyPaddy Bradley, director at Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership

As we develop a Local Industrial Strategy for Swindon and Wiltshire and the UK prepares to exit the European Union in 2019, 2018 is certainly set to be a year full of opportunities as we work together with local businesses, councils and the Government to continue to drive sustainable economic growth.

The SWLEP is continuing to support clean growth across Swindon and Wiltshire and has launched a £3.75m grant fund for low carbon projects as part of our EU funding programme.

Two calls look to develop and introduce new low carbon energy products, services and technologies into the area.

Our ERDF Technical Assistance team is holding an information session from 09:30 to 11:00 on 12th January 2018 at the Wiltshire Council’s Monkton Park offices in Chippenham. We have commissioned work to develop our approaches to higher education and the application of digital technologies, with reports due by April 2018.

A new science incubator and grow-on space for science and technology businesses will open at Porton Science Park near Salisbury.

The first phase of this project was made possible through an investment of £10.1m from the Government’s Local Growth Fund and the European Regional Development Fund and Wiltshire Council, secured by the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP).

We are continuing to invest in the development of our Growth Hub, the online community for businesses in Swindon and Wiltshire and the ‘go to’ gateway for impartial business support and advice.

The Growth Hub also provides access to events, programmes and funding opportunities for start-up businesses, mature businesses and those looking to grow.

Businesses need appropriately skilled and competitive workforces to achieve their growth ambitions, our Higher Futures team provide a free, impartial skills brokerage service and will be further developing the partnerships they have in place with FE colleges and Universities.

The apprenticeship levy represents an exciting opportunity to develop an even more diverse, skilled, qualified and sustainable workforce, including through Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.

We will be rolling out a business-focused project, Better Business for All (BBfA). This Government initiative helps businesses improve their competitiveness and grow by working with local regulators to improve how regulatory services are delivered across Swindon and Wiltshire and save businesses time and money.

Rob PerksRob PerksRob Perks, chief executive, Inspire

Inspire’s view before the Referendum was that a vote to leave would cause two to three years' uncertainty in the economy and that growth would be slower as a result over this period but would pick up fairly quickly afterwards.

Our view hasn’t changed despite the ups and downs of the negotiations and the media hype surrounding them.

Hence we predict the following for 2018:

  • We’re much more likely to exit the EU with a sensible deal for both sides than without a deal. This is simply because it’s in both sides interests. We see a “two-speed EU” developing which has been talked about for years but in a slightly different format. Countries whose economies are convergent being in the single market, single currency and moving towards fiscal and political union such as Germany and France and those in a free trade zone with less regulation, less convergence and no ambition towards further integration such as the UK and maybe others such as Turkey or other Eastern Europe economies.
  • Sterling is more likely to bounce than fall as news emerges of a deal later in the year
  • The UK stock market is likely to rise on the news too
  • Interest rates will stay low but we may see a small rise of 25 to 50 basis points
  • Fiscal policy won’t change much in 2018

So now is a great time for businesses to invest in new product or service development to get ahead of their competitors who may still be sitting on their hands waiting to see how things work out.

Inspire runs free monthly strategy courses helping business owners to get their growth plans moving.