Looking back and forward to Gloucestershire business in 2018

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
22nd December 2017

After a year in which many Gloucestershire companies struggled to come to terms with the complexities of Brexit, 2017 has ended with a little more clarity but still leaving most of their concerns unanswered.

Key among these concerns is the big question of whether they should give the green light to investment plans which have been on hold for many businesses.

My feeling is that many of these firms will now take the plunge and opt to invest in 2018 with the cushion of the lower pound giving a welcome profit boost to those in manufacturing particularly who have a thriving export business already.

Looking towards 2018, I feel that the issues that I highlighted a year ago - skills and housing - are still as dominant for companies and their employees as they were then with little real prospect of improvement.

I had hoped that the November Budget would give our businesses here and employees some relief and respite.

It has not really turned out that way at all.

The much trumpeted stamp duty change designed to help homebuyers has ended up being all smoke and mirrors.

And one of the biggest Budget announcements on allowing councils to spend more on building their own homes has turned out to be rather more complicated and delayed.

Here in Gloucestershire, where property is prohibitively expensive for most of our young people trying to buy their first home and develop their careers in the county, housing and the lack of it is still a major issue for 2018.

We simply have to have more young professionals training and settling here to drive the local economy because Gloucestershire is rapidly becoming a county of old people.

Nothing wrong in that, of course, for retired people to come and live in this beautiful county - we are, in fact, a net importer of older people.

But if we do not build more homes, Gloucestershire’s future demographics look gloomy in terms of productivity.

The figures are pretty horrifying.

Every year we need 13,000 new entrants to existing Gloucestershire jobs to replace those leaving through retirement or other reasons - that’s 130 000 over ten years.

So, tied in with the need for more affordable housing, the whole issue of skills and upskilling the current workforce is a huge challenge for 2018.

We now have a Skills Board in the county, and I would like to see a lot more resource and energy with government help put into this area.

And upskilling of the existing workforce is just as important as developing our young people. With so many middle managers retiring, companies are facing urgent training challenges to replace these experienced people.

Companies are telling me they just cannot get the skilled people they need.

So, in the coming year, we must start to ensure that more of our young people are studying the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

These STEM subjects are the learning focus at Berkeley, the old decommissioned nuclear power station site, now being launched by South Gloucestershire and Stroud College as a very special centre for young people who look to be the engineers and cyber specialists of the future.

I was blown away by what is happening at Berkeley. We need more of our companies to experience the passion Kevin Hamblin and his team there have for STEM.

The county’s ability to develop the right  skills for companies will be much enhanced by the University of Gloucestershire’s new Business School when it opens on the Oxtalls site next September.

As a fervent advocate of apprenticeships here, I am pleased that the new Business School will be offering a wide selection of degree apprenticeships allowing young people to do a paid job and also study for their higher qualifications.

Most of us get stuck while driving on the A417 at Crickley Hill at some time during the working week so it was good news to hear Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk extracting something of a commitment on the so called “Missing Link” from the Prime Minister at Question Time.

That commitment appears to be the oft dreaded “consultation” starting in February on three proposals to ease this appalling traffic logjam.

Alex has done a great job but let’s not hold our breath. I first started campaigning about this fifteen years ago as Editor of The Citizen so I won’t hold my breath.

But here’s hoping.

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