Technology and talent will be key to the South West’s future prosperity 

March 2021

Businesses in the region are recovering but there are still challenges ahead. We are beginning to see a marked increase in overall business activity across the South West. 

We’ve already observed real resilience from the region’s businesses this year with professional services and technology businesses faring well by quickly making the transition to remote working and keeping their teams engaged throughout. Even in sectors which have had to re-size and restructure – such as manufacturing – many have done so with a view to long-term recovery and indeed growth. The leisure sector has experienced a period of exceptionally tough trading, but even there we are seeing chinks of light with ambitious plans close to home. The planned YTL arena at Filton, near Bristol, is set to drive £3m of investment into the region with every event staged once it opens in 2023.  

In our monthly Rethinking the Economy survey, nearly two thirds (61%) of medium-sized South West businesses have confidence in the resilience of the regional economy over the next 12 months. Of course, any further lockdown restrictions, Brexit and the end of the furlough scheme could hamper economic recovery. It’s still difficult to fully predict to what extent, especially with redundancies becoming a real, and unfortunate, possibility for over half (55%) of the region’s businesses, according to our poll.  

Business leaders in the South West are working hard to address operational concerns to help them bounce back from the pandemic and have pinpointed cash flow (52%), managing employee wellbeing and safety (48%) and supply chain management (45%) as top priorities.  

Along with addressing these immediate operational concerns, 52% of businesses in the South West are looking beyond the here and now and starting to consider succession planning. This is higher than the national average of 40% and having that eye on the future, will help companies across the region to survive and then thrive in the coming months and years. 

As a region, we have a history of innovation and this year we’ve seen companies reinvent themselves more quickly than ever before. Bristol in particular has a strong track record of tech innovation and was named by TechNation as having the most productive tech talent in the UK. This positions us well for regional recovery as the whole eco-system around technology-led businesses will benefit from the ongoing growth of this regional innovation powerhouse. 

To fuel further growth and secure the future of the next generation of talent, we need to see Government support in this area. As a region we benefit from having four world-class universities within the South West and we should continue to forge stronger links between business and all levels of education. The organisations creating the jobs of the future should be encouraged to invest in training and upskilling people who can deliver these growth ambitions. 

As part of our ‘Rethinking the South West Economy’, BDO will be tracking how the region’s mid-sized businesses meet the challenges and opportunities ahead and sharing insights from its business leaders as they make that journey.