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Home » Business Leaders Share Their Great Big South West Wish List For 2023

Business Leaders Share Their Great Big South West Wish List For 2023

As we prepare to wave goodbye to 2022, there will be few businesses who will look back on the past 12 months with fondness. With three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors, one famous lettuce and a turkey of a mini Budget, businesses have been battling unprecedented political instability, global energy insecurity and the lasting effects of Brexit and Covid-19 on shortages of staff, skills, materials.

Throw in record level inflation and interest rates, it has been quite a year and the headache is set to continue into 2023.

Despite financial support from government on energy bills, the South West has taken a hit as cost-of-living pressures continue to bite.

It is an economy highly reliant on tourism and hospitality – and with everyone having a little bit less to spend, it’s the fun things that get trimmed first.

But let’s look to the future now.

The South West continues to thrive as a region, positioning itself as the UK’s green energy powerhouse. There are numerous exciting developments happening in the West of England that are worth keeping an eye on over the next 12 months. From progress at Hinkley Point C in Somerset and the freeport in Plymouth to the UK’s first space launch from Cornwall and a huge new cyber development in Gloucestershire, the region has plenty to be proud about.

BusinessLive has been gathering insights from key business and economic figures in the region to see what’s on the wish list for 2023.

READ NEXT: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirms spring Budget date

A positive mindset will be crucial

Ian Girling, Dorset Chamber chief executive (Image: Dorset Chamber) Dorset Chamber chief executive Ian Girling said that the continued resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of Dorset businesses gives hope for the coming year.

He said: “A positive, although not naive, mindset will be crucial in the months ahead and my over-riding wish is that we pass through the worst of the recession and see some signs of recovery as soon as possible.”

He asked for specific clarity on extended energy support and action on infrastructure, skills, trade and green technology.

And he said there may be a need for hard pressed hospitality and retail businesses.

He said: “Clearly, challenging times are ahead and Dorset Chamber will continue to support businesses, fight their corner and remain positive throughout 2023.”

A clear plan and concrete action

Emma Rawlings, executive director of Somerset Chamber (Image: Somerset Chamber) Somerset Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Emma Rawlings said that without decisive action, the UK is on track for a long-term spell in the economic doldrums.

She said: “Business confidence has slumped and it will take more than words and rhetoric to restore. Many firms simply do not know if they will even be able to pay their energy bills once Government support ends in April.

“They need to see concrete action to resolve the immediate disruptions facing the UK economy, not just soaring energy costs but labour shortages, rising raw material costs and the additional burdens in our trading relationship with Europe.

“They also need to see a long-term plan on infrastructure, skills, trade, and green innovation.

“The Government must create a stable environment to allow business confidence to grow. Firms need practical and financial support to weather the current storm.”

The Energy Crisis must be top of the Government’s to-do list

Kim Conchie, Chief Executive Cornwall Chamber of Commerce (Image: Exposure Photo Agency) Kim Conchie, Chief Executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce said that a large proportion of Cornwall’s businesses are high in energy consumption.

Sectors like manufacturing, care, agriculture, hospitality, retail are typically high energy, low margin organisations.

He said: “The top priority is for Chambers of Commerce to keep the energy crisis top of the Government’s to-do list. We cannot control Putin or Middle East fossil fuel production, so we must have a long-term plan for energy security. This would give business owners – and citizens – hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, many other sectors are flourishing.

“The companies that can deal with uncertainty but be clear who their customers are will survive. When I owned my business in the 90s recession there was definite benefit in being perceived as having the right ethos, marketing your stability and determination to look after customers as core values, and collaborating for exponential benefit wherever possible.

“Finally, keep tabs on how the Shared Prosperity Fund, other grants and tax credits, devolution and your Chamber of Commerce can help your business.”

Black and racially minoritised entrepreneurs remain resilient

Sado Jirde is the director of the Black South West Network (Image: BSWN) Sado Jirde, director of the Black South West Network said that the last few years have been ones in which the only consistent theme has been volatility and turbulence.

She said that the impact of Covid-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine on fuel prices, inflation, and interest rates, has brought social and financial pressures that have had a disproportionate impact on black and racially minoritised businesses and communities, as does the cost-of-living crisis that is currently consuming the country.

She said: ” BSWN’s own research shows that over 50% of black and racially minoritised families cannot afford to buy sufficient food to feed their families. Other research by People Like Us found that for more than half of Black and Racially Minoritized professionals, government support will not see them through the next six months, a rate seven per cent higher than their white counterparts. This is compounded by the fact that professionals from racially diverse backgrounds are paid just 84% of what their white counterparts earn.

“However, despite these barriers and the ongoing levels of economic uncertainty, black and racially minoritised entrepreneurs remain resilient and aspirational.

“Our wishes for 2023 are that the potential to realise the entrepreneurial capacity of black and racially minoritised entrepreneurs is not lost; that strategic investment in this sector is proportionate to both its needs but also its scope for growth and impact on economic recovery for everyone.”

We have seen great resilience from our companies

Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire director (Image: Will Pascall UK) Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire director and vice chair GFirstLEP said he is I relatively positive about the county’s economy for 2023.

He said: “ ‘If you are positive, you’ll see the opportunities instead of obstacles’, is the well worn business watchword. I believe it is true in Gloucestershire.

“Without doubt, some High Street shops and hospitality venues – cafes, restaurants and pubs – face a very difficult first quarter of 2023 with some being forced into closure. The staggering costs of energy will cripple many companies here unless government makes real efforts to support those costs from April.

“The largest business project in Gloucestershire – the Cheltenham cyber park lying cheek by jowl with GCHQ – is now a £1bn scheme and progressing well. And after 20 years of campaigning by MPs and business, the “missing link” on the A417 at Brockworth will finally get started early next year.

“I think one of the most exciting projects for the economy of the county is the possible sighting of some of the Rolls Royce Small Modular Reactors(SMRs) on the decommissioned nuclear sites at Berkeley and Oldbury. And in Tewkesbury, the borough now has the third highest economic growth in the UK with burgeoning companies and a new Garden Town being developed over the next 20 years.

“But what Gloucestershire needs for business is a clear strategic plan for the county so companies can locate and develop where the communities and homes will be. We need a radical planning shake-up to grow our economy.

“I believe that can only be achieved with unitary change in our local government where six district councils plus a county council makes no business sense.”

Adopting a bunker mentality will not work

Tim Jones, Chairman South West Business Council Tim Jones, Chair South West Business Council predicts that 2023 will be a tough year with little help likely from Government.

He said: “We have proved in previous difficult periods – foot and mouth, the financial crash – that we are a region of survivors able to react more nimbly than many multinational companies.

“To look back next December and say that 2023 has been a good year will need a positive attitude. Adopting a bunker mentality will not work. Markets like this yield huge opportunities, many quite unexpected.

“Investment is one of the keys to success starting with innovation and skills.

“Combine this with forging new partnerships including cooperatives is the sort of bold thinking required.”

He called for partnerships with the public sector and between urban and rural businesses to strengthen supply chains.

He added: “Partnerships with Europe have been on hold since Brexit but they are ripe for picking. If bureaucracy tries to stifle this then go around – we will help to challenge.

“2023 is a year of opportunities – we must embrace these.”

Government needs to set out its plans for business clearly

Stuart Elford, chief executive of Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce Stuart Elford, Chief Executive of Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce said that 2022 has been a tough year for firms that already depleted.

And businesses now need long term plans, not just short-term quick-fixes.

He said: “Devon businesses have so much to offer but they need clarity to build confidence.

“Business is the backbone of Britain and so my hope for 2023 is that we have some medium to long-term certainty, for with that businesses can plan and have the confidence to invest and help get the economy back on its feet.”

What are your hopes for business in 2023? Share your insights in the comments.