In the January / February issue of Lancashire Business View we’ve engaged the county’s businesses, their representatives and public sector leaders to lay out aspirations and opportunities for the year ahead.
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The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement made for interesting reading and combined with press reports it seems that the UK economy is going to perform ahead of expectations in 2015. Meanwhile, across our business we are witnessing many of our clients enjoying much happier times and being cautiously optimistic about the next twelve months.
Deals are being done, properties are being bought and sold, leases are being granted and taken up, companies are being sold as part of owner/management exit strategies and entrepreneurs are buying when they see the right opportunity.
Of course it would be foolhardy to say that the bad times of the recession are now well and truly behind us but they are definitely a diminishing landscape in Lancashire’s rear view mirror. The message is that the county can look forward to the short-term future with a degree of optimism and confidence that’s not been around for some time.
Lancashire has always been a great place to do business purely because of our ‘can-do’ approach and we are naturally entrepreneurial. After all it was the birthplace of the industrial revolution and as the Chancellor has pledged investment to grow the Northern Powerhouse, this can only present us with opportunities. However, there are bound to be a few banana skins on 2015’s economic pavement – there’s a rate rise on the cards and we don’t how the Eurozone is going to perform. So as business leaders we must execute a degree of prudency – but not to the detriment of growth.
John also adds: “The buoyancy in the business and local communities around us means a busy time for Napthens as our clients become more active and that of course is a very pleasing position to be in. We’re predicting a marked upturn on last year’s activity across our services, but complacency must always be guarded against. Napthens is looking forward to the future with renewed confidence as we continue to go from strength-to-strength.”
What are the opportunities for your business over the next year and what is the outlook for your sector?
Gillian Bardin, managing director, Taylor Patterson
The significant number of changes to pension legislation will bring a much greater focus to this area. The flexibility that the legislation offers can only be fulfilled in practice if your savings are in a pension contract that allows you to make the most of this flexibility.
As a sector the outlook for financial services is optimistic as more people will require guidance and advice with regard to retirement income options.
Paul Billington, managing director, Gconnect and chair of the Lancashire Digital Network
Gconnect’s opportunities for 2015 are very exciting. Many businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on connectivity as they push more critical business applications over their internet. With experienced and highly skilled individuals in our team we have some great opportunities ahead.
This mirrors the sector as a whole. More than ever IT and especially internet connectivity is highly critical to most businesses. Supporting the region’s businesses is vital; recruitment, skills development and managing growth are all extremely important to our sector in 2015.
Mark Hope, director, Stonehouse Logic
We have two main opportunities for growth. We have already expanded our business into Manchester, West Yorkshire and recently the North East and will be looking to develop our business in more regions this year. Also, the increasing availability of fast and reliable internet connectivity in the region enables the wider adoption of cloud computing which is a real game changer in terms of our industry and new ways of doing business.
Ruth Connor, chief executive, Marketing Lancashire
In 2014 we commissioned a major piece of research and development work which will come to fruition in the spring, in the form of a new visitor economy strategy and destination management plan for Lancashire.
This will provide a new strategic plan to unlock further success for the county and give added focus to the work of Marketing Lancashire, especially in relation to opportunities in our food and drink, great outdoors, events and business tourism sectors.
The sector outlook is still very positive with UK tourism growing faster than retail, manufacturing and construction.
Daniel Rich, general manager, Barton Grange Hotel
2015 is set to be a really strong year for our business and for the hotel sector as a whole. Our owners, the local Topping family, have invested heavily in the hotel with a full refurbishment of our bedrooms and we’re underway with an upgrade of our conference and banqueting facilities.
This year’s business is already looking strong and with the refurbishment message reaching potential clients, we are set to see an increase in visitors to the hotel in both corporate and leisure markets, and to our new-look conference facilities.
Gerry Kelleher, vice chancellor, UCLan
2015 is going to be an exciting year for UCLan. We will begin the construction of our Engineering Innovation Centre, an ambitious and exciting project that will enable us to provide a long-term economic asset for the area by supporting the industries that are the foundations of Lancashire’s economy.
Whichever party wins the election I am hopeful that the argument regarding the economic benefits of international students, both to universities and the country, has now been won and they will be excluded from the next Government’s target to cut net migration.
John Kersey, owner, Kersey Hairdressing and chair, Institute of Directors Lancashire
Having taken my businesses through three recessions over forty five years of my career, I have found if the right level of investment and training has been achieved in the downturn years, once the upturn comes we will succeed. And if we are to believe the economic forecasts 2015 will herald just that.
My business now employs more staff than two years ago and with that we have ongoing investment in training, so I believe the outlook for my business is very good.
Graham Wilson, partner, Beever and Struthers
The outlook for our sector is exciting, already we are seeing an upturn in business confidence and we are seeing the firm attract new clients at an unprecedented rate. The challenge is to ensure we have the people to deliver our services and much time and effort has therefore been devoted to recruitment and training.
What will your business do differently in 2015?
Steve Smith, managing director, Scancapture
2015 will see the launch of our new engagement programme called Engage2Grow which will help business leaders to review and research their current engagement levels with staff and customers, keep a closer eye on competitors and view their own operation from an outsider’s perspective through mystery shopping exercises and internal and external communications. Our portfolio of services is expanding as a consequence of this new initiative which will help transform businesses throughout the region and more targeted marketing will help us to focus more on the type of companies we want to work with.
Tom Ashworth, technical director, Nublue
2014 saw significant growth for Nublue, and we believe we’ll see further expansions next year to 30 or more team members. We settled into new offices on the Lancaster canal side and expanded our team by four, and this year we’ll be looking to invest heavily in internal training to ensure we’re even more efficient than we are now. I’m confident in our increasing brand exposure online and offline which has grown organically since we began and I think it will continue to grow by the only means that really counts – by producing remarkable work and providing exceptional support.
Michelle Mellor, operations director, Cummins Mellor
Gain feedback, feedback and more feedback and then communicate it and communicate it again. Our strategic approach and plans to really open up with our employees, customers and suppliers was key in 2014 and our vision to welcome all feedback as part of our culture is a priority, especially the not-so-good stuff. It is crucial to improving our business and communicating our approach to all our stakeholders.
Recently introducing very simple diagnostics to gain a better understanding of each team individual and their colleagues has been at the top of our list to drive the business forward and will continue this year.
James Saunders, managing director, Simon Jersey
One of the most significant changes for us this year will be maximising our partnership with Team GB. Winning the contract was a huge vote of confidence in our design capabilities and shows our ability to bring one of the UK’s most diverse teams together. We plan to involve our customers and people in Lancashire every step of the way. In line with our fresh thinking and outlook, next year will see us launch a new-look catalogue with an updated style and more than 230 new products influenced by customer feedback and current trends from a range of different sectors.
If you were Chancellor, what would be your election year pitch to Lancashire business?
Keith Melling, partner and head of corporate, Napthens
We have very active energy and manufacturing and engineering sectors and businesses need help to develop the skills base. There’s great work being done by local authorities, educational establishments and business support groups in addressing this but more funding needs to come from central government. Reducing the deficit is a prime concern but we must incentivise businesses to invest. Initiatives such as reducing employer NI contributions or a more drastic cut to VAT should be explored. Banks also need to be further incentivised to release funds to businesses. There’s too much reliance on private investors or entrepreneurs to fill the finance gap but if this reliance is to continue then more needs to be done to help them carry this burden in the shape of tax relief.
Ruth Connor, chief executive, Marketing Lancashire
Lancashire’s £3.5bn visitor economy makes a significant contribution to our county success offering short breaks and day visits but also delivering a high quality of life, creates and supports over 56,000 jobs, has thriving businesses and contributes significantly to the cultural feel of Lancashire.
To continue to increase the number of visitors and their spend in Lancashire, I would cut the 20 per cent tourism VAT to enable us to compete with overseas destinations. Britain is one of the few remaining European countries without a reduced rate for the tourism sector. This would make a significant difference to our industry encouraging even greater job creation.
John Kersey, owner, Kersey Hairdressing and chair, IoD
Throughout Lancashire there are many large infrastructure projects planned for the future, many of them will bring jobs to the region; I would like the Chancellor to make provisions perhaps in the form of tax incentives for a significant number of local SMEs to be included in the supply chain, creating employment opportunities and securing long term employment prospects for the workforce of Lancashire.
Mark Schofield, director, Haworths Chartered Accountants and president, North West Society of Chartered Accountants
I would tell businesses that the first round of ABG (accelerating business growth) funding is coming to an end and money is starting to run out, but as this was a fantastic boost to Lancashire, we are going to do it again!
Gary Lovatt, regional chairman, Federation of Small Businesses
The Chancellor has done a good job of offering support to the business community against a backdrop of austerity. Stability has been a cornerstone of the current parliamentary session, with increasing numbers looking at growing their business as a result. Measures to tackle late payment as well as further action to get finance through to those businesses that most need it for growth should be key elements of future policy.
Andrew Botham, chief executive, Mayes Accountants
As Chancellor, my election promise will be to provide a further incentive to increasing employment in Lancashire. For all businesses registered as employing 2-250 employees on 1 September 2015, I will give a £5,000 incentive against PAYE payable. Any companies who have increased their full-time equivalent employee head count by 31 March 2016 will receive a further £5,000 incentive.
John Stanworth, corporate director, Barclays
Greater support for business, especially those looking to expand and add value to the economy through job creation, innovation and overseas trade. One of the key concerns for our clients is the link between the education sector and workplace and the need to bridge the gap by supporting local colleges and universities in engaging with the business community.
Jonathon Shaw, partner, Anderton Gables
If I were Chancellor, my election year pitch to Lancashire businesses would be that we will see more powers devolved to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and that the ongoing reform to help SMEs bid for government contracts is speeded up and that cumbersome pre-qualification questionnaires be standardised to simplify the whole process and stop it being so costly.
Lis Smith, principal and chief executive, Preston’s College
I’m passionate that we, and training providers as a whole are able to play our part in supporting and sustaining a highly trained, exceptionally employable workforce.
Consequently, if I were Chancellor my pitch to Lancashire businesses would be to keep faith with the passion and enthusiasm of the county’s young people and to invest in the proven productivity, innovation and motivation returns that an active employee training programme delivers – and I’d also give you new tax breaks to help you do it!
Mike Hartley, managing director, Praetura Asset Finance
Lancashire is the UK’s manufacturing heartland and it has been neglected for too long with many SMEs struggling to gain access to the support they need. The Government needs to look at how it can help to drive the use of alternative sources of funding to kick start the investment that companies need to grow.
It’s essential, however, that companies don’t grow too quickly and over-trade, which is why asset finance provides an ideal solution, releasing equity that is already held within a business to provide cash where it’s needed
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