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  • The Thames Valley
    Business Barometer

Summary of the last Barometer report

At the start of 2012 BDO and C8 Consulting set up the Thames Valley Business Barometer, to survey the region’s businesses and track trends in economic confidence and performance across the Thames Valley. In the 7 years since the Barometer began UK businesses have faced a period of seemingly continuous change and uncertainty. The British economy starting to emerge from the last recession in 2013; the referendum on Scottish independence was held in 2014; the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union took place in 2016 and Article 50 was signed in March 2017 signalling our withdrawal from the EU after more than 40 years as a member. In addition, there have been two general elections, three different Conservative Prime Ministers and two delays to the date that the UK was due to leave the EU.

There seems to have been little time for businesses to draw breath or plan ahead with any degree of certainty.

The results from our twice yearly Barometer surveys during that time have shown how business confidence and performance has been affected by these changes. All indicators rose sharply from Autumn 2013 to 2014, as the Thames Valley emerged from the recession, before plateauing throughout 2015, with over 90% of business leaders surveyed feeling positive about the economy and the Thames Valley in general performing very strongly.

In Spring 2016, with the EU Referendum approaching, economic confidence dropped sharply, although all the main performance indicators remained strong. However, by the Autumn 2016 survey, after the decision had been made to leave the EU, both performance and confidence indicators had fallen.

Since then business confidence has risen and fallen without ever approaching the heights of 2014 and 2015 while business performance improved and has remained at levels only slightly below their peak.

While the EU Referendum was meant to put the EU question to bed once and for all, since 2016 businesses in the Thames Valley have faced even more uncertainty over what the future will hold and the conditions in which they will operate in the future.

It is to their credit that, while confidence levels across the region have ebbed and flowed, performance measures have, by and large remained strong throughout.

The Spring 2019 survey

The most recent Barometer survey took place between March and May and the results show business confidence at its lowest level since the Barometer survey began, with 63% of respondents feeling that confidence had dropped since late 2018.

However, business performance over the previous six months remained strong with 36% telling us that their business pipeline had increased, 43% seeing turnover rise and 51% seeing profitability improve.

However when we discussed the results with our panel of business leaders it was felt that many companies had been tightening their belts and that many longer term projects and investment decisions have been deferred, at least for now.

Wellbeing in the workplace

In the second part of the last survey we looked at health and wellbeing in the workplace so that we could get a local perspective of how businesses are addressing an issue that affects every one of us.

We asked companies if and how they encourage their employees to be mentally and physically healthy at work.

Almost 90% of those surveyed think that, as employers, they have the responsibility to encourage their employees to be healthy. For 48% of respondents, sickness absence is an issue for the effective day to day operation and productivity of their organisation, while 71% of those surveyed said that the financial benefits of spending money on their employees’ health and wellbeing outweigh the costs to the business.

However, only 56% of respondents feel that they have an effective health and wellbeing programme in place.

When asked about the solutions they have to support the physical health and wellbeing of their employees, more than half of respondents mentioned cycle-to-work or bicycle purchase schemes and a third mentioned programmes to encourage physical activity such as running, walking and cycling. Another third said that their company has a health and wellbeing section on the intranet, while 34% provide healthy food options.

A full write up of the results of the survey and the round table discussion with our Barometer business panel, can be found in this report, together with profiles of five companies based in the region.

I hope you find the Barometer report interesting and informative and I welcome your feedback. Please feel free to share the report and its findings with others and to contact us if you would like to be involved in future Barometer surveys in any way. The more organisations that get involved the more clearly we will be able to track what is happening across the region.