David Russ: Managing director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce
“2011 has been a challenging year for many SMEs and, unfortunately, 2012 looks to have much of the same in store.
We’re expecting that the threat of recession will mean that business confidence in Wales will remain low during 2012. It is instability which has harboured so much uncertainty and hesitation in the business world – holding back any potential growth. Ideally, we would like to see more stability, both in the Eurozone and in the wider financial world, next year.
We will be working closely with the Welsh Government to make sure that new support initiatives, such as the Welsh Jobs Fund, will make the maximum impact to those who need it most. We would also like to make more small and medium sized businesses aware that the window of opportunity for this kind of support is small, with an application deadline of only January 31, 2012 for the Wales Economic Growth Fund.
We will also be urging local businesses to take advantage of large-scale or international events next year, such as the Olympics, which present boosts to business tourism and commercial opportunities while the world’s attention is focused on the UK. Businesses should think carefully about how to increase their own visibility to capitalise on these opportunities.
As well as taking advantage of events happening locally, we will also be encouraging more businesses to look further afield to find new revenue. Welsh exports have not grown as expected in 2011, and businesses in Wales need to do more to harness this opportunity for their own gain. Along with widening delivery services or client bases across the UK, or utilising the internet to target areas further afield, businesses should also explore international connectivity through networking events or by contacting us to broker relationships.
Only by making the most of exports and these fleeting events or support schemes will local small and medium sized businesses be able to sustain their business or grow further during the difficult year ahead.”
Phil Cooper: Managing Director, Venture Wales
“Many businesses in Wales are likely to enter 2012 gripped by anxiety, as international economists predict nothing but further gloom in the year ahead.
With the EU struggling to save the euro, the IMF has added its voice with forecasts of continued recession and escalating financial problems, from which no country will be immune.
But, while we in Wales have to accept that we are heavily influenced by what’s happening in the wider world, we can’t allow ourselves to be paralysed by it.
We can hope that a deal is done to stabilise the eurozone, and that major economies get their debts and deficits under control in order to restore confidence. But, in the meantime, we must get on with business, keep our heads above water and look for growth opportunities, wherever we can find them.
Individual businesses in Wales will be taking whatever steps they can in 2012 to adapt to tougher economic circumstances. The natural reaction for some will be to downsize and simply cut costs. However, I hope others will respond by exploring new markets and diversifying products and services.
To make this happen in 2012 we need strong leadership from both the Welsh and Westminster governments. That means policies that reduce uncertainty and encourage business to pursue new opportunities, create jobs and stimulate renewed economic growth.
I hope to see clearer government thinking about what makes a real difference to business. They should be resolute in getting rid of schemes that don’t deliver jobs and growth, and expanding those that do.
For example, the Welsh Government should extend the grants for investment scheme from its end of January deadline to continue throughout the year. Moreover it should bring back the old business growth scheme which genuinely encouraged businesses to expand and create jobs.
Now is not the time for experimenting with new and untested approaches to business support, especially in the important start-up sector. Governments need to focus on programmes that create jobs and work with delivery partners who have a track record of delivering results and innovation in the past and seek to regain momentum.
Let us maximise the EU funding available to us for business expansion and, if the public sector can’t match-fund, then open it up to the private sector.
There are investors out there with the funds to inject into promising Welsh businesses but the uncertain economic climate is delaying their investment plans. The Welsh Government can help reduce this uncertainty by becoming pro-active in its approaches to build up business confidence again.
Yes, we are in a tight corner and 2012 is going to be very tough for many businesses. But only through individual enterprises taking initiatives and pursuing new opportunities together with strong political leadership will we start to turn the tide.
I hope the actions of governments, particular the Welsh Government, will give them the confidence to make their move this coming year.”
Dr Barrie Kennard: Director, Leadership & Management Wales
“2012 looks set to be another difficult year for Welsh businesses and the economy in general. While many hope that the real end of the recession is on the horizon, it looks increasingly unlikely that this will be realised over the course of the next 12 months.
To combat this, I think 2012 will bring a change in the style of management demonstrated by Welsh businesses. There is now a real need for business leaders to think more about the longer-term success of their businesses; taking decisive action now to safeguard their futures and plan for sustainable growth when the end of the recession does finally arrive as it surely will.
We are also likely to see an increase in cross-sector collaboration in 2012, as businesses come together to share the skills, strategy and principles that have successfully guided them through the tough times. If businesses and organisations can learn from one another, this will make them a stronger proposition in the future.
I certainly think that 2012 will demonstrate just how important micro-businesses are to the stability of the Welsh economy. There are already a number of initiatives in place to benefit these businesses and I expect this will lead to an increase in both their numbers and importance.
The final trend I predict is that in 2012 we will see more work-based learning delivered via a blended-learning approach consisting of e-learning, coaching and mentoring, as well as taught courses and interventions. In my view, learning providers and universities need to do more in 2012 to make sure young people are job-ready, in particular in relation to leadership and management skills when entering the employment market.”