It’s the start of a brand new year so we asked four business people their views of and predictions for 2019 – as well as the challenges.
The political landscape, locally, nationally and internationally has never seemed to hold as many uncertainties. It seems that politics has never felt as unstable with Brexit having dominated the landscape for over two years and domestic issues appearing to take a backseat.
Locally, the Sheffield City Region is also undergoing a period of uncertainty. There is a change in the leadership of the LEP, we have a recently appointed mayor for the Sheffield City Region and lots of uncertainty and questions around the future of transport and infrastructure in our region, with HS2, road, rail and air all going through periods of change.
As a newly appointed director of the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, being ‘Barnsley born and bred’, and being MD of Kinspeed Ltd, a software development company that was ‘born and bred’ in Rotherham, and now being based in North Derbyshire, I felt it was important to join the board to represent the views of business in the region and try to influence decisions locally, as I feel all of the above is key to ensuring that the future for our region is bright.
Our region has a fantastic reputation and everywhere I travel the region is held is high regard, with our manufacturing and industrial heritage being famous and something for which we should be proud.
The current challenge is trying to ensure that the transport infrastructure, IT and internet capacity is capable of providing easy access in and out of our region for goods and services and also ensuring our workforce is trained and equipped with the skills and tools necessary to provide world class goods and services to customers all over the globe.
It is key our local leaders are able to work together with the LEP and the mayor to ensure we obtain access to funding via a devolution that is accepted by all local leaders, ensuring funds are distributed fairly across the region, to enable us to provide a timely world class good and/or service, when and where the customer requires it.
Our Yorkshire grit, combined with our honesty and down to earth approach, can all add up to a positive future if resources available are obtained and channelled correctly, enabling our region to move forward with positivity and confidence into 2019 and beyond.
It’s fair to say that 2018 was far from boring but what I would most like to see this is a lot more stability.
I work in the entertainment industry, so I’m used to excitement whether it is the biggest act of the day playing at the FlyDSA Arena Sheffield, or a dramatic come-from-behind victory by the Steelers in front of a packed house.
However, for far too long the region has been affected by local, regional, national and international issues that have had a range of significant impacts.
Some of these we have control over but for the most part we are at the mercy of decisions made a long way from the Sheffield city region. A little bit of calm wouldn’t go amiss, please.
Closer to home one thing that we can work together on is a coordinated marketing approach for our area. This region has so much on offer and some quality marketing professionals but sometimes we don’t quite connect the dots with lots of groups working on lots of initiatives. We need that one influential voice or figurehead that shouts loud and brings us all together.
Our region’s leaders (whether they be political, cultural, business or social) need to take more risks. Look to the long-term benefits rather than short term gains.
Now, you may say I’m biased, but I’d love to see more young people recognising the opportunities available to them by entering the cultural creative and events businesses. It’s a fantastic sector to work in and if you like a challenge then this industry is definitely for you.
Speaking of challenges… I tend to be an optimist with a positive mindset and any challenge should be seen as an opportunity but there are obviously several on the horizon as we begin the new year.
Brexit! I desperately wanted to avoid saying it but whatever people’s views for and against the vote uncertainty of this process can cause significant challenges and a lack of focus on other areas.
I think it will be the of issue of our times, so it will always be a background noise to whatever is going on. As I said earlier, stability is what is needed and Brexit is the perfect example of this.
Competition from other regions, cities or towns will continue to increase. Others (particularly those nearby) are realising they cannot be shy about shouting about their assets. We must do more to tell people about what we have here. It’s genuinely top-class.
And finally, more people from all backgrounds who suffer from issues with their mental health wellbeing need to keep receiving support. We’re getting better, but we can’t rest on our laurels in such a vital area.
Here’s to a happy and successful 2019!
The Sheffield City Region will face many challenges in 2019, least of all the closure of more local businesses due to a lack of skills, inadequate business support and an out of date business rates system. For the Sheffield City Region to thrive and be one of the country’s leading regions, each of the combined authorities need to address these issues.
Employers are increasingly failing to recruit the people they need and are reporting skills shortage vacancies. There are numerous challenges facing employers, including difficulty finding workers with in-demand technical skills and an ageing workforce.
We need to:
- Increase the business representation on local skills board.
- Ensure there is a single strong voice, accountable within each authority who can represent the region at a national Government level to highlight the region’s skills and educational need.
- Support schemes that encourage greater engagement between education and business, including B&E Together, Inspiring the Future, Young Enterprise and the CEC.
- Support local programmes which encourage apprenticeships and work with schools and colleges to encourage young people into vocational education and training, as well as pathways into traditionally academic routes. Encourage and support small firms to invest in leadership and management training.
The current landscape for business support is overcrowded and confusing. Councils need to work with Growth Hubs and LEPs to develop a cohesive system of business support that is effective, sustainable and adds value.
We need to:
- Recognise that retailers are a major contributor to the local economy. Provide business support programmes or schemes specifically for retailers.
- Ensure the business support offer is tailored to the needs of all businesses.
- Consider offering council funded grants for start-up and developing businesses.
- Take steps to actively engage with hard to reach businesses and diverse groups including women and ethnic minorities.
- Ensure that support is tailored to local businesses and is relevant and accessible.
The out-dated and unhelpful business rates system in England was introduced in 1990. They’re consistently the third highest cost after staff and rent. This problem has been exacerbated recently as a result of the 2017 revaluation, with 500,000 businesses receiving an increase in their rates liability. Until there is fundamental reform of the business rates system, councils need to support businesses the best way they can.
We need to:
- Encourage eligible businesses to apply for Small Business Rate Relief.
- Provide appropriate signposting support for any business looking to appeal against their valuation.
- Support businesses to access the discretionary reliefs they may be entitled too, including the discretionary relief fund.
- Make transitional relief easy for businesses to apply and administer swiftly.
As a general manager at a shopping centre, it is very tempting to begin a column on my predictions for 2019 by asking what might be ‘in store’ for the retail sector for the coming year.
But in all seriousness and puns aside, my main prediction is that Frenchgate and many of our contemporaries will be continuing to think beyond the traditional shopping centre concept of ‘floors of stores’.
We need to ensure are offering a positive experience to offer the main point of difference on the high street versus online.
We know customers still want that connection, the tangible experience – shopping ‘IRL’, if you will, as opposed to the online experience of a tablet or smartphone screen – but how is retail addressing this?
I’m very proud to say we made a pioneering move last year – as the first shopping centre in the north to welcome the UK’s biggest trampoline park operator when Flip Out opened its doors in July, bringing 50 jobs to the city business region.
Flip Out redeveloped the 28,000 sq ft former BHS site which saw us pioneering the first change of use of this kind for a former BHS unit in the UK and Ireland. This demonstrates an innovative and creative approach to leasing and using space in a new way to transform Doncaster’s town centre in an ambitious and pioneering change for the high street.
This follows on from other developments that go beyond the ‘floors of stores’ concept – although we’re pleased to have welcomed our fair share of those in 2018 including accessories brand Morgan Taylor high street toy retailer The Entertainer and gadget and gift shop Menkind.
But when Taco Bell opened in November (after identifying Doncaster as ‘an area we’ve had our eye on for a while’), the international chain chose us because they said we were “the perfect location for those looking for entertainment and of course a bite to eat.”
Taco Bell helped us expand on our Eat Street offering. But enhancing our leisure and entertainment offering has been a real achievement for us not just this year alone.
Hungry Horse pub the Mallard opened its doors in 2015, fitness fans can pop in to so more than shop after The Gym Group opened in 2016 and we’ve been hosting art, photography and poetry exhibitions for several years which led to us unveiling cultural hotspot ‘The Art Space’ in 2017.
In 2019 the main challenge for the sector will be providing these different experiences to compliment the retail offering. More than simply ‘floors of stores’ has to be the way to go in 2019 and beyond – that really is the innovation the high street needs in Doncaster, the Sheffield City Region and across the whole of the UK.