While the news about Honda has dominated much of our work throughout 2019, there were also very many positive developments at Business West and in our region to shout about.
Despite tough national competition, Swindon was chosen as one of twelve locations across England to receive an Institute of Technology (IoT). Intended to provide high-quality skills training and offer young people a vocational alternative to university, the IoT is a much needed boost for businesses, residents and a clear vote of confidence in the economic resilience of our town.
In November, Business West’s environmental credentials moved up a gear with the acquisition of a hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo pool car. One of only a handful of vehicles available in the UK, the environmentally friendly pool car will reduce carbon emissions and help to encourage local businesses to try hydrogen fuel cell technologies for themselves. Furthermore, it is a striking and highly visible advert for a burgeoning low-carbon industry unique to Swindon – low emissions vehicles. As many of you will be aware, Swindon has garnered a reputation as a centre for hydrogen vehicles in recent years, with the opening of hydrogen cell refuelling stations in 2015 and 2018 and the home of the Hydrogen Hub. This makes hydrogen fuel cell technology a natural choice for us as Swindon & Wiltshire’s leading business champion.
In partnership with Swindon & Wiltshire LEP, we launched a brand-new series of meetings to connect and facilitate dialogue in the Wiltshire business community and give businesses the opportunity to engage with and influence key decision makers in the region. The events have been fantastically well received with over 500 people attending so far, and I would like to thank all our guest speakers for helping to make these events happen.
Events-wise the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative also helped to relaunch Swindon Mindful Employer Network. Mental health is linked to a variety of workplace issues including absenteeism, increased staff turnover and poor performance, and poses a complex set of challenges for business owners and managers to deal with. Common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression often carry a great deal of shame and stigma, meaning that it is sometimes difficult - particularly for smaller businesses - to spot the signs early and make adjustments for employees in crisis. Responding to this need to help destigmatise and minimise the impact of mental health issues in the workplace, Swindon Mindful Employer Network (SMEN) was relaunched in partnership with Swindon Borough Council and Swindon & Gloucestershire Mind to help empower organisations – large or small – support the mental wellbeing of their staff.
This year we welcomed Peter Boucher, CEO of Swindon’s Excalibur Communications to the Business West board. Peter has a pedigree in global sales and marketing in some of the best companies in business including GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft, Unilever and Vodafone and we are delighted to have him on board. Peter is a results driven leader with broad experience across several industry verticals with significant UK and global exposure to leading diverse and virtual teams. I am looking forward to working with Peter in his capacity as a Business West board member and drawing on his strategic and commercial skills to develop Business West’s wider proposition.
2019 also saw us welcome Dee Temple-Multon and Dave Battrick to Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative team. Melksham-based Dee is a passionate advocate for Wiltshire business and has played a crucial role in connecting and facilitating dialogue across the business community and ensuring the voice of business is heard by key decision throughout 2019. Dave Battrick joined us in October following a 12 year stint at the Federation of Small Businesses, where he worked as a Membership Advisor and South West Regional Sales Manager. Prior to working at the FSB, Dave spent 25+ years as a managing director and business owner in the retail sector and has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience of the local business environment to the team.
2019 was also an election year! The general election result will give us a majority government for 4 or 5 years - and welcome stability for businesses as we head in to 2020. Nevertheless, the precise outcome of Brexit remains uncertain, given that UK-EU negotiations over the future trading relationship start in earnest next year. As Brexit is set to run and run as an issue, our award-winning Trading Through Brexit service will remain active in 2020 to help Swindon & Wiltshire businesses navigate their way through the regulatory and other changes leaving the EU will invariably bring.
No sooner does one year end, before another begins and there’s plenty to look forward to in 2020. From the publication of the final SWLEP local industrial strategy, Swindon Science Festival at STEAM in February and the launch of our manufacturing cluster, 2020 certainly promises to be a busy one!