Included in the latest Thames Valley Business Barometer report are the results from our survey which ran from September to November 2019. Twice a year our expert panel of Thames Valley business leaders get together to discuss the findings and consider how local businesses can increase their productivity to thrive in a post-Brexit UK.

What should cities do to create an optimum environment for businesses to grow?

On the topic of building environments for businesses to thrive, Darren Browne from the University of Reading comments on this and his discussions with experts in smart cities, “If you can put a business close to a university, you create a great environment, but you can also do something about housing. For example, corporate sponsored housing, where we build houses and if some of the inward investment comes in, this gives us a better opportunity to grow”.

Paul Britton from Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce added, “The role that universities provide today is one of place shaping. They are not only developing centres of excellence, but they are providing the infrastructure in which to do that”.

Policy two of our New Economy campaign calls for the government to help create the right environment for businesses and local communities in which to flourish by investing in smart infrastructure. The Thames Valley view seems to support this.

What needs to be done to tackle the skills gap in the area?

The third New Economy policy, which was touched on during the panel discussion, is for the government to support business growth by tackling the UK skills gap. For example, the government should reinstate the two year post-study visa in particular to address the skills shortage in technology and manufacturing.

Touching on this, Sarah Stevenson from Hays Recruitment commented: “We have got this dichotomy where businesses are putting the brakes on hiring but we’ve got a huge skill shortage in areas like technology and soft skills, such as leadership and management skills, which are becoming more important than ever to make sure the workforce is engaged and productive”.

Darren Browne reiterated this saying, “One thing that’s become quite clear to us is that businesses are now looking for something we call a triband which is a mixture of good technology, good academics, and also they want early access to students”. Could a New Economy address the issues being seen in the Thames Valley?

What strategies could businesses implement in 2020 to increase levels of productivity?

Our New Economy campaign calls for help to increase UK wealth by addressing Britain’s productivity puzzle, arguably the biggest economic and social challenge currently facing the UK, and as part of the latest edition of the Thames Valley Business Barometer, the survey and panel discussion took a closer look at productivity which in the Thames Valley remains fairly high according to the latest survey; 65% of businesses scored their productivity between six and eight out of ten, which David Brookes of BDO feels is expected due to the region being technology led with a skilled workforce.

When talking about this topic the buzzwords seem to be flexible and agile working. Paula Elliott of C8 says that more businesses are managing deliverables and outputs now rather than hours spent at a desk. Steve Head of Hicks Baker goes on to say that, “If the productivity is there it doesn’t matter if you are in the office one day a week or five days a week. The danger is that it creates expectations. In our white collar world it works but in the blue collar construction world, a level of flexibility might not work”.

On the topic of flexible working, Cameron Rathwell of HSBC comments, “What you get back if you do it with the right people is massive because the hours cease to exist for the individual, they know what they need to do to get the job done and they do go the extra mile”.

In order for new processes and changing attitudes in the workplace to continue, businesses have to have the technology which is fit for purpose and our New Economy campaign wants the government to encourage innovation and digitisation and provide funding in order to implement industry 4.0.

David Brookes, BDO Partner, concluded by saying “Whether or not the election result will have a significant impact on business and economic confidence is yet to be seen and we will have to wait for the results of our Spring 2020 survey to discover this. Despite the figures seen in this years report, speaking with our panel of business leaders in the Thames Valley, there was considerable optimism on the investments being made and how the region is performing well compared to others.”

David Brookes is Tax Partner at BDO.

“Speaking with our panel of business leaders in the Thames Valley, there was considerable optimism on the investments being made and how the region is performing well compared to others.”

David Brookes, Tax Partner at BDO

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