Businesses in South West predict performance will improve in next year

Peter Ball, Smith & Williamson

Half of the (49%) businesses in the South West believe their prospects will improve in the next year, according to new data from Smith & Williamson’s inaugural report: Dream bigger: The scale-up moment. In a show of confidence from the region’s business community, one in five (19%) go as far to say that their position will ‘improve significantly’.

Looking across all UK regions, South West firms rank 7th in terms of business confidence, with London and the North West at the top of the table. Companies from the region are slightly more optimistic about the wider economy than their own prospects, with more than half (51%) predicting UK economic growth will pick up in the next year.

How does business confidence vary across UK regions?

For the research the accountancy, investment management and tax group interviewed 1,000 scale-up businesses and others yet to achieve scale-up – defined as businesses which have grown in either headcount or revenue by 20% for three consecutive years, from a starting position of ten or more employees.

The research also found that South West firms are largely positive about recruitment. Almost a third (31%) plan to increase headcount in the next year to support growth, while an overwhelming 80% of businesses say they have sufficient access to the talent they need. For the 15% of companies which felt the talent pool was lacking, business development and marketing skills were identified as problem areas.

According to the study, banks and investors could be loosening their purse strings in the region, with one in five (20%) South West SMEs claiming it has become easier to obtain finance in the last year. Meanwhile, almost a third (31%) of businesses in the region say they plan to grow through merger or acquisition in the next 12 months.

Peter Ball, scale-up lead at the Bristol and Cheltenham offices of Smith & Williamson, said: “It is obviously hugely encouraging that half of businesses in our region feel generally optimistic about their prospects over the next 12 months, against a backdrop of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU post-Brexit.

“Bristol, the principal economic hub of our region, is now being recognised internationally as a great place to grow a business – it was named the world’s ‘Smartest City’ for 2018 – as well as being the only UK city on the recent National Geographic Cool List, even beating Paris.

“Nonetheless, considerable challenges remain for businesses in the South West, not least around transport and accessibility in some areas, broadband speeds and skills shortages. These in part may explain why our region is still some way behind the likes of London and the North West in terms of business confidence.”