Let’s campaign hard for region’s firms

Lucy Thornycroft the new director of the CBI in Yorkshire and the Humber. 23 January 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollionson
Lucy Thornycroft the new director of the CBI in Yorkshire and the Humber. 23 January 2015. Picture Bruce Rollionson
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How can we help the region’s economy grow this year? Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright spoke to senior business figures.

Lucy Thornycroft, the newly appointed director of Yorkshire and the Humber for the CBI.

2015 will be a year of change and gains for Yorkshire and Humber business. Political parties are firmly in election mood in what is shaping up to be a tightly fought contest. At the same time, while the UK is on a steady growth track, there are a number of global headwinds, most notably the sluggish Eurozone recovery. At this critical time, Yorkshire and Humber businesses will be urging politicians to keep their eye on the ball in terms of securing growth and creating jobs that are sustainable in the long-term.

And we need to ensure the benefits of growth are felt by everyone. 2014 was a successful year for the UK economy with strong growth and 1.2 million jobs created. But record levels of employment have not been matched by real wage growth. To make sure people feel the benefits of recovery in their pockets, our focus must be on equipping them with the right skills to succeed. Businesses can then increase productivity and restore wage growth. This starts with schools getting the basics right in primary and reforming secondary education to provide a personal menu of tailored learning plans for 14-18 year olds, including offering high-quality academic and vocational ‘A’ levels as an option.

By 2022, half of all jobs in the UK will need workers who have some form of higher education. But developing skills only starts with education and must continue in the workplace – for that reason businesses need to focus on helping their people build careers that make the most of their talent.

We also need to make sure growth is felt everywhere with investment in our roads and railways, high-speed broadband and new homes across the country.

Politicians are too often seen as ducking the big, politically difficult questions like long-term road funding, which is why we need a renewal of the politics of infrastructure to deliver the improvements we’ll need over the next 50 years – not just the next five. To ensure Yorkshire and Humber is a great place to do business we need action to address congestion on the roads, improve trans-Pennine connectivity and accessibility to our vital ports and airports.. We can secure the gains of growth for the long-term if we make the right choices. Let’s get on with it

Jonathan Oxley, regional chairman for the Institute of Directors (IoD)

There are positive signs for business in the year ahead: unemployment continues to fall and decision-making confidence is returning to boardrooms.

But there are significant challenges, as can be evidenced by the fluctuating fortunes of the manufacturing and services sector.

For every two steps forward, we take one step back. I would like to see the Government enable businesses to grow, through major investment in transport infrastructure and a commitment to skills and training. Private sector businesses must be at the forefront of our economic recovery – and we must ensure that conditions are right to enable them to invest, employ and export. Crucially, the government must provide a framework that enables us to retain the benefit of that growth in the region. I would like to see more growth in sectors where Yorkshire and the Humber is already strong. Much has been made of our expertise in advanced manufacturing, healthcare technology and the creative and digital services, yet there is still more that we can do to unite expertise from our private sector, local government and some of the world’s best universities.

One of my primary concerns is a long-standing lack of investment in our transport infrastructure, which I am pleased to see the government tackling through its Northern Powerhouse agenda. The big ticket investments – HS2 and the Northern Hub electrification – must be supplemented by investment in local lines.

Neil Kendall, West Yorkshire regional chairman, Federation of Small Businesses

Many small businesses across Yorkshire saw a return to growth in 2014, and the FSB is optimistic about business confidence and further growth of Yorkshire’s small firms in the year ahead. The first ever Small Business Bill is currently progressing through Parliament, and it recognises the contribution that small businesses make to the economy.

We hope that once the Bill becomes law it will finally address some long-standing barriers to trade and growth. The General Election has the potential to herald positive change for Yorkshire firms. The FSB is asking Yorkshire’s prospective MPs to back small businesses by supporting policies which tackle the dysfunctional business rates system and ongoing skills gap, and which improve access to finance.

If our small businesses are to grow and create more jobs, we need a tax system that rewards, and does not penalise, entrepreneurs.

We hope that whichever party is in power from May, they will do everything they can to make starting and running a small business easier.

This year, in West Yorkshire, we will push for rate concessions on business units that have been empty for a long-time, and in North Yorkshire we will continue our lobbying to reduce parking charges.

In South Yorkshire we will seek assurances from the big energy firms that wholesale oil and gas saving will also be passed on to business customers.

Andy Tuscher, Yorkshire and Humber Region Director at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation

As we head into 2015, manufacturers are in a very different place compared to this time last year.

Gone are the bullish expectations, to be replaced with a sense of cautious confidence Optimism has been tempered by a hefty dose of realism, with those expecting UK economic conditions to improve almost halving from 70 per cent to 37 per cent this year. At the same time, the number expecting conditions to deteriorate has tripled, rising from five per cent in 2014 to 17 per cent this year.

Global economic conditions are now of greater concern - 38 per cent of manufacturers expect them to take a turn for the worse in 2015.

Manufacturers have told us that this will be a year for consolidating growth. Staff numbers, sales, margins and productivity, should be heading in the right direction with those expecting an increase in these core measures consistently outstripping those expecting a decline. Manufacturers’ top priorities in 2015 will be improving marketing and branding, launching new products and services and consolidating UK activity - riskier expansion activities are way down the list.

Despite this, it’s vital that they don’t lose their appetite for the many lucrative and ‘safe’ export markets out there. The hotspots for export growth are expected to be North America, Asia and South America – Yorkshire’s businesses must capitalise on this and drive their exports upwards.