Is the future bright for the South West region?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the South West “can look forward to a brighter future” once the pandemic is over. Speaking at the virtual South West Conservative Conference last weekend, the Prime Minister highlighted the Government’s efforts to ramp up vaccinations and testing in the region while protecting jobs and supporting businesses through the pandemic. But - do business leaders in the region agree?
In response to our latest Rethinking the Economy survey, half of South West businesses said they will struggle to continue trading if the strictest restrictions continue for a further two months. We asked companies what they needed to see from Government in coming months to support their recovery. Businesses are urging the Government to extend the furlough scheme and relax restrictions as soon as it is possible to. All eyes will be on the Chancellor at the Budget on 3 March as businesses continue to map out their long-term recovery and the collective South West economy.
More than half of companies feel the Government should focus on investing in infrastructure to support levelling up the regions. Even before the pandemic, mid-sized business leaders told us that investment in ‘shovel ready’ developments should be a key priority. This week, it has been announced that 12 South West development projects – across Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay - will commence after receiving more than £20m in funding from the Getting Building Fund as allocated by the South West LEP. In the long-term, these projects could deliver significant value to the region and more immediately, it is positive news for the local supply chain.
Getting back to business, there is a sense of guarded optimism for many business leaders in the South West as 43% feel it will take between one and three years for their sales to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Even against this backdrop, 57% of South West businesses feel now is the right time to invest in the future of their business. People shared their priority areas for investment are funding for technology to support more people working remotely and outsourcing their finance function. This is indicative of the reality that business leaders are rethinking the way they operate – for good. A recent report from the London School of Economics1 found that 90% of companies that have innovated since the outbreak of COVID-19 said that the changes would persist well into the future.
The report concluded that these innovations could improve the long-term productivity of employees or allow employees to focus on more productive tasks. This could be a big boost for business in the long-term. We’ve seen countless examples of this entrepreneurial spirit across the region. Innovation isn’t always about new products and services – it’s often a case of finding a better or different way to do what you’ve always done.
With so many mid-sized businesses investing for the future and if companies receive the support they need right now, alongside ongoing investment in the region – the future for the region does look bright indeed.
You can read the full survey results here.