2017: how has Swindon fared?

Ian Larrard
Director - Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative | Business West
21st December 2017

After a dramatic 2016, many of us were perhaps expecting 2017 to be something like the morning after the night before, and for businesses facing up to the realities of Brexit, their headache could not be remedied with a full English either.

Skills shortages, delayed orders, supply chain issues are just some of the very real impacts businesses are experiencing in advance of Brexit, not to mention the uncertainty that has dogged their decision making capabilities throughout this year.

Whereas the snap election was meant to strengthen the Government’s hand in the Brexit negotiations, it turned out to be something of an own-goal for Mrs May, weakening her majority in the Commons.

This, in addition to business rates, interest rates and red-tape fed into a growing sense of malaise amongst business owners, who in 2017 began to feel that Government is no longer on their side. But things seems to have turned a corner in recent weeks.

The fug around Brexit is gradually lifting. There was a breakthrough in negotiations earlier this month, with both negotiating parties guaranteeing the right to remain for UK citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK. We know that a transitional deal is probable, Irish border issues are solvable and differences between London and Brussels are not insurmountable.

For the UK economy as a whole, Government got the basics right in its Industrial Strategy whitepaper. Skills investment pledges and new measures to support and scale up tech businesses are also to be welcomed.

The hangover of 2017 has been punctuated with positive new developments and new beginnings for Swindon & Wiltshire - helping to ease it somewhat.

In terms of transport, the new GWR trains on the London line are up and running, and, although frustrating, J16 and J17 of the M4 will see great improvements once completed.

How about skills? Always challenging but there are signs of initiatives that could be very exciting for the area. 

As regards housing, completion rates are good and outline planning granted for a major start to New Eastern Villages of up to 2,380 dwellings. 

The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery bid  has been submitted to Heritage Lottery Fund and we eagerly await visits and decisions in the early part of 2018. 

Switch on to Swindon has been a great success and much more is planned for the forthcoming year.

The Carriage Works project is about to go live and there are great prospects afoot for the SnowDome and Leisure Complex on the North Star site where outline planning was granted in mid-November. 

Honda and BMW continue to flourish with great news about the electric Mini starting in production in 2019. 

So, despite the hangover, enough good has happened in 2017 to leave me feeling optimistic about the year ahead. 

However, my advice for the New Year remains the same. Plan for the worst. Hope for the best. 

Government will aim to gain maximum access to EU markets while reclaiming sovereignty (not easy). GDPR comes into force on 25 May and fines are potentially heavy. Inflation is on the rise. Growth is stagnating. 

So, yes, there will be challenges, but equally some great opportunities ahead locally.

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