I am optimistic about 2020, which may place me in the deluded category. Why do I feel that way?
A key characteristic of successful businesses is adaptability — the ability to deal with whatever the world might throw at them, that’s how they survive. What kills business is uncertainty. We have had too much of this with the interminable Brexit process (if only it was a process) and the role played by a dysfunctional parliament. My optimism is not based on an assumption that this will all magically disappear, but it’s reasonable to assume that some more certainty on how the country will be governed will emerge, and we do appear to be moving towards the end game on Brexit. There will be much still to negotiate and haggle over in the coming years on the final version of our relationship with the EU. This should allow everyone to start getting on with business in the new world and move beyond the terrible stalemate of the past three years. Most of my optimism is based on the changing nature of the UK economy.
We are a strong entrepreneurial and innovative economy, more so than many appreciate. The fact that we have more unicorn businesses than the rest of Europe put together, third only to the giants of the US and China, is only one measure. Young talent, local and foreign, see this as a very good place to start a business. Entrepreneurs are no longer dropouts from the educational system, it is aspirational. The UK is very much a 21st-century platform, and inadequate infrastructure has not inhibited this.
Linked to this is my expectation that we will start to see a real resurgence in regional regeneration — important demographic shifts. This has been talked about for decades by successive governments, but now it seems to be real change; its time has come. We are almost unique in having centralised so much of our economy in what is a small country. This has not happened to the same extent in, for example, Germany and the US.
The industrial powerhouses of the North and Midlands were not created by central government initiatives. This will call for local leadership and a ‘pull’ effect with regions telling government what they want from them, rather than governmental types of initiative pushing tax breaks, grants and other ideas with no real understanding of what might work. It will call for regions to work together and collaborate, rather than cities competing for inward investment at the expense of others. A tough ask.
We are very good in this country at believing that our problems and challenges are somehow unique to us, but they are not. There is much to be optimistic about.
2020? I think we’ll see a bounce back.