2013: Looking ahead

Welcome to 2013 and to our annual Looking Ahead review where we ask the county’s business community about the year to come. And their answers are, as ever, illuminating. This year, we’ve looked at four key areas: predictions for business in Lancashire; observations on skills provision; thoughts on finance; and wish-list resolutions. Alan Barnes reports.

Napthens Ian Leigh[quote-block]

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After a tough 2012, the business community is looking forward with anticipation to 2013 and the opportunities the New Year brings.

There is no doubt that business still remains difficult across the board, with many sectors facing challenges.

Lancashire businesses do not operate in isolation and are increasingly influenced by economic pressures around the country and throughout the world. In particular, clients tell us that they are concerned about further dips in consumer and business confidence next year, not helped by the worldwide instability we are seeing.

As a result, individuals and organisations are, understandably, spending money very cautiously due to the ongoing uncertainties and many issues outside our control.

These conditions are unlikely to change in the near future, but it has been satisfying to see many of our regional businesses adapting to the changing pressures and continuing to operate effectively and in many cases successfully.

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that there is still business to be done. However, organisations are spending conservatively and the pressures facing us simply mean that a business proposition now, more than ever, has to be first class and far better than the competition.

If this is the case, and it is delivered with appropriate internal efficiency, then there is a lot to feel confident about.

At Napthens we see many customers successfully adapting their propositions in this way, and they are continuing to grow their businesses despite the current conditions.

This is something we are striving to do ourselves – listening to clients, understanding what they want and adapting our service to meet their requirements. For businesses willing to meet the challenges head-on there is much to be optimistic about.

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[quote-author]Ian Leigh, chief executive of Napthens solicitors.[/quote-author] [/quote-block]

What is the outlook for your business and sector for 2013, and how do you feel Lancashire businesses will fare?

Stephen Gregson, director, Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants, Preston

There are always going to be some businesses doing well and some businesses that are suffering. In terms of growth areas, I can see the businesses that prosper being those that give value for money or a niche offering. My main piece of advice to businesses is to concentrate on what you’re good at and try to do it better. A positive outlook is a must.

Gary Clarkson, managing director, Rosslee Construction, Accrington

There is work out there but you have to be realistic and go the extra mile. There is not much profit in construction but you simply have to do your best. We have three new jobs starting in the New Year and though they are not long-term projects, they will help.

Ann morris 2Ann Morris, chief executive,  Lancaster Chamber of Commerce

We expect a final decision from the Secretary of State on plans to progress the Heysham M6 Link, a crucial infrastructural project which will underpin future economic development in our district. I believe we will get a positive decision and that construction work will begin during 2013.[break]

David Haythornthwaite AH smallDavid Haythornthwaite, CEO, Tangerine Holdings, Lytham

In Lancashire, generally, I think the picture is reasonably buoyant. I have always believed the economic picture is better than some would have you believe. In our business the veterinary side is strong, with exports healthy. The farm animal side of the business is also strong, so that is good., but the equine side of the business is flat, so we are up in two and flat in one.[break]

Tim Bullough, Accrol Papers, Blackburn

The prospects are excellent for us with growth predicted at 25 per cent. We are bringing in a dedicated facial tissue facility but the toilet roll and kitchen roll sides of the business continue to expand significantly too.

Vernon Yerkess, managing director, Cleverboxes, Altham,

At the moment we employ 25 staff and we want to increase that number to 35. We are growing and we are very positive for the year ahead.

Steve HoyleSteve Hoyle, managing director, Regenerate Pennine Lancashire

We’ve the best part of £20million of funding to deliver business support in Lancashire and are expecting a busy year, with a high level of demand for services. We predict turnover will go up 50 per cent. There are positive signs for business across Lancashire. A large number of our clients are working on expansion projects in the next year.[break]

Debbie PettittDebbie Pettitt, chief executive, Marsden Rawsthorn Solicitors, Preston

There are many changes ahead in the legal sector. Most notably, the Legal Services Act means that non-law firms can now offer legal services. Referred to as ‘Tesco Law’, this is resulting in new players in the market which is forcing legal firms to look closely at their pricing structures and the overall package of services they offer clients. We see this as an opportunity to take a step back and think about how we can do things differently which can only be a positive thing for the industry and, more importantly, clients.[break]

Nick Thompson BPBNick Thompson, deputy managing director, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool

Next spring the Pleasure Beach is launching its latest £5m investment, Thrill-O-Matic, the world’s first Wallace and Gromit ride. Nickelodeon Land also eagerly awaits the arrival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who will be making it their new home. We are optimistic that it will be a great season.[break]

Richard Evans, senior partner, KPMG, Preston

There are signs that market conditions are improving slowly, and the last few months have been encouraging. Lancashire has a highly collaborative and entrepreneurial business community and, with the right advice and investment, is well-placed to take on the challenges that the economy presents. The county benefits from a rich manufacturing, chemicals and aerospace heritage. Coupled with its base of strong family-run businesses, these sectors will lead the way for Lancashire’s recovery.

How confident are you that you will attract people with the right skills in 2013?

David Haythornthwaite, chief executive,Tangerine Holdings, Lytham

Attracting employees with the right skill sets is the most difficult aspect of our business. We have 20 vacancies at the moment, from operations manager to graduate scientist, and for some of the jobs we cannot even get applicants. There must be a lot of unemployed people on the Government’s official jobless list who don’t want to work.

Vernon Yerkess, chief executive, Cleverboxes, Altham

We find sourcing employees difficult, especially for high-end jobs. I always try to recruit staff from within a 10-mile radius but there seems to be a shortage of software developers locally.

Colin Mustoe, chairman, Senator International, Accrington

We don’t have any problems recruiting. We currently have 1,000 staff and although we don’t have any plans to increase that number significantly in 2013, nor do we have any plans to cut job numbers.

Vivienne Davenport, development director, Westholme School, Blackburn

We have recently recruited a very high calibre principal from Cheshire. We have a lot to offer, and so do businesses in this area generally. We need to shake off the whole ‘It’s grim up North’ image.

paul BowkerBMW-tvpav-05Paul Bowker, chief executive, Bowker Motor Group

We have a thriving apprentice programme and invest heavily in training our staff at all levels. For this reason, we are always able to attract new employees that value a progressive culture whilst working for a business that cares genuinely about every staff member’s personal development.[break]

Nick Thompson, deputy managing director, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool

Our employees are one of our most important assets. In recent years the pool of applicants for fixed-term contracts has proved to be better and better and our retention levels are improving all the time.

Richard Evans, senior partner, KPMG, Preston

Access to a skilled talent pool is essential to fuelling economic growth and in helping Lancashire’s businesses to remain competitive. The county has a mature education infrastructure network, led by the likes of UCLAN and Lancaster University, and is well supported by transport links to the rest of the UK. Business leaders now have the challenge of providing the opportunities that will help retain talent in the region.

Mike Damms, chief executive, East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce

The challenge this year is for industry and colleges to communicate effectively to deliver the courses and the talent to do the jobs. This is of paramount importance.[break]

Amanda Melton, principal, Nelson and Colne College

Colleges have a significant role to play. We work with our local council, Job Centre and directly with larger employers to identify and fill skills gaps within the existing workforce and through new recruits.

Debbie Pettit, chief executive, Marsden-Rawsthorn solicitors.

We are finding that qualified lawyers from cities such as Manchester and Liverpool are attracted to the large law firms that exist in smaller cities like Preston by the prospect of a better work-life balance and a shorter daily commute which is very encouraging for Lancashire’s legal sector as a whole.

Will access to finance become any easier in 2013?

HowardJonesHoward Jones, co-director, UnifiedWorld, Blackburn

Although increasingly difficult to obtain, finance is still available for those willing to put in the extra effort required to demonstrate a sound business strategy. Reducing business costs is still a major priority for many businesses and, in many cases, by sourcing goods and services locally, a more personalised and cost-effective service can be provided.[break]

Steve Hoyle, managing director, Regenerate Pennine Lancashire

We have already secured funding for the next 12 months of growth. We work closely in partnership with all the main business support bodies across Lancashire and deliver programmes ourselves. There are many opportunities for local businesses looking for support to help them grow.

Richard Evans, senior partner, KPMG, Preston

The professional services sector has a key role to play in supporting businesses in achieving their ambitions and fulfilling strategic objectives. It is essential that the industry adapts to the new reality, becoming more innovative, commercial and value adding so that it can best support the needs of corporates. Performance optimisation will be a core concern for management teams, so tax, pensions, and management consulting services will remain in high demand.

Nick Thompson, deputy managing director, Pleasure Beach, Blackpool

We have had a successful relationship with our bank for more than four generations. That helps.

Paul Bowker, chief executive, Bowker Motor Group,

We are a family business with a long, strong trading history. Should we require finance we always negotiate prudently and within our means. We seek out minimum cost for maximum results. I think that makes us an attractive investment proposition for banks supporting our plans innovation and growth.

Ilyas Munshi, chief executive, enterprise4all

The Coalition Government has come to terms with the need to provide access to finance, leadership and management development, start-up assistance, coaching and mentoring, plus specialist support for businesses in order to simulate growth and economic prosperity. Enterprise4all has been a source of support for local companies and we have also benefited from the assistance available to high-growth companies. In terms of finance, we are helping many local companies unlock schemes being offered around capital investment and assist their growth plans.

Tim Mills PIERCETim Mills, Pierce Accountantants, Blackburn

The Government continues to offer support to banks and other funders to help businesses obtain funding but there is still an apparent reluctance to support early-stage and new business ventures with traditional funding options. A growth in private equity funds willing to plug this gap will continue to take advantage of increasing opportunities, potentially restricting further the requirement for debt funding.[break]

If you were the Chancellor, what would your New Year resolution be?

Rob Dobson, corporate partner, Napthens Solicitors

I would give businesses a reason to be cheerful and start the year with a reduction in fuel duty. This would also mean consumers would have more in their pockets to spend. The reduction in employers’ National Insurance contributions for businesses employing 50 people or fewer would also be popular. It is payments like this that can make a real difference for small businesses. Finally, a stamp duty land tax holiday for transactions under £250,000 would support the property market which we know is struggling.

Vernon Yerkess, managing director, Cleverboxes, Altham

There is a real need to bring in more stringent regulations for multi-national on-line sellers like Amazon and eBay. They make millions here but because they are not UK-based skim off money that doesn’t benefit the treasury or British businesses. With a more level playing field we could create more jobs.

Vivienne Davenport, development director, Westholme School, Blackburn

I’d be re-sitting my maths and economics A-levels - anyone who needs to borrow £212bn more than planned needs some serious help and our teachers would sort him out, make no mistake!

David Haythornthwaite, chief executive, Tangerine Holdings, Lytham

The whole social security system, especially unemployment benefits and housing benefits, needs a thorough examination. Skillful surgery is needed - the Government has not been radical enough.

Gary Clarkson, managing director, Rosslee Construction, Accrington

I’d make it easier for SMEs to do business within the public sector. There are too many obstacles at present. If I was George Osborne for a day I would make those public sector authorities spend some of their budget with SMEs.

Colin Mustoe, chairman, Senator International, Accrington

As Chancellor I would be doing everything I could to encourage people to invest in modern machinery in the UK. Investment in UK manufacturing would mean more work, more jobs and economic growth. It helps all aspects of industry and the economy.

Caroline James, senior partner, Trevor Dawson

Mr Osborne should restore Empty Rate Relief to encorage recovery.

Andrew Botham, Mayes Accountants, Accrington

I would reduce corporation tax and PAYE for small and medium-sized companies to encourage sustained and steady growth.

Debbie Pettitt, chief executive, Marsden-Rawsthorn

In short, sort the banks out and ensure that they start to support SMEs in the areas where it is really needed, not just in the major cities.

Richard Evans, senior partner, KPMG, Preston

He must also see through his commitment to providing the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) with more funding. This was a real promise from the Government in relation to local empowerment and will provide the LEPs with the teeth to move forward their strategies and support local economic growth.