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Skills shortage is the main barrier to Bedfordshire’s prosperity, say businesses

The poll has been conducted to mark the launch of Bedfordshire Limited 2018, Grant Thornton’s annual health check of the local economy which looks at how the top 100 largest companies in the county are performing.

Results of the survey reveal two-thirds (66%) of Bedfordshire businesses questioned identified a shortfall of talent as the key challenge to future growth in the region with half (50%) struggling to recruit the right people to take their organisation forward.

This was followed by a limited supply of commercial property (33%), government support for businesses (33%) and transport and infrastructure (27%).

The poll also highlighted that nearly three-quarters (72%) of local firms feel business conditions are more difficult or remain the same compared to this time last year with 55% stating the Brexit process has impacted their strategic planning.

  • Pictured: Grant Thornton director Steve White.

Steve White of Grant Thornton’s Milton Keynes office, said: “Last year’s Bedfordshire Limited report revealed the county’s largest businesses were flourishing, with increases in profitability, employment and investment.

“Of course, a lot has changed in the past 12 months as Britain continues to negotiate the terms of its exit from the European Union, in particular the final deal over custom arrangements, along with a rise in interest rates and new government legislation including  the ‘sugar tax’ which has affected the food and drink sector in particular.

”Unsurprisingly, this has created uncertainty for businesses as they adapt to the changing environment and plan ahead for the future. Skills shortages continue to compound the situation as firms have less wiggle room to adjust their growth plans if they can’t recruit the necessary skills and talent.”

Positively, the survey revealed the majority of Bedfordshire businesses are looking to invest over the next 12 months with 55% anticipating significant capital expenditure. Technology was seen as the top priority (27%), followed by developing their brand and marketing capabilities (16%) and recruitment (16%).

Export levels are also positive for the year ahead with 39% of firms planning to maintain or increase levels of overseas trading. A further 11% of businesses expect to begin exporting for the first time.

Mr White said: “Investment is a key indicator of confidence for the future and it’s clear businesses in Bedfordshire are optimistic about their long term prospects and are proactively taking steps to navigate any potential challenges up ahead.

“The expected rise in exports also shows firms are looking to expand into overseas markets and find new avenues for growth which presents a wealth of opportunities.”

Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring this year’s Bedfordshire Limited launch event. Chief executive Justin Richardson said: “Bedfordshire is renowned for its strong business community and is home to many fast growing firms with huge potential. Despite some challenges ahead as the UK goes through a period of change, the underlying foundations here in the region are strong.

“We look forward to hearing the full results of this year’s Bedfordshire Limited report when they are unveiled next month.”

Grant Thornton’s Bedfordshire Limited study has become a recognised benchmark of the overall strength of the county’s economy. Results of the 2018 report will be revealed at a breakfast briefing, hosted by Grant Thornton and sponsored by Bedfordshire Chamber, on June 7 at the Woburn Sculpture Gallery.

This year, the event will feature guest speakers Jason Longhurst, director of regeneration and business at Central Bedfordshire Council, and Luton Council chief executive Trevor Holden. 

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