Saturday 23rd January 2021
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 23/11/2020

Overseas interest in health and digital investment bodes well for the region

Investor interest in health and wellbeing has increased due to Covid and bodes well for the cluster of life sciences firms in the East of England according to EY’s latest UK Attractiveness Survey. Its survey of overseas investors showed that 41 per cent of respondents deem the ‘quality of the health system’ a more important factor in their investment strategy as a result of Covid, higher than sustainability and climate change. Only the digital sector was seen as a strong driver of growth. Stuart Wilkinson (photo, right), office managing partner at EY in the East of England, said: “There is clear appetite for further investment in the health and wellbeing sector and the life sciences cluster in the East of England continues to be well-placed to meet this demand.” However, the report found that the share of overseas firms planning to invest in the UK in the next 12 months has fallen to 25 per cent from a ten-year high of 31 per cent in April and over a third had scaled-back their UK foreign direct investment plans. Overall, the survey points to 30-45 per cent fewer foreign direct investment projects in the UK in 2020 than the 1,109 projects recorded in 2019. But just over half of firms said that the attractiveness of the UK will increase over the next three years. After the digital sector and health and wellbeing, real estate and construction, the consumer sector and the automotive sector are seen as the biggest growth drivers. The changing economic model in major city centres will become key to investment strategies and a country’s ability to deal with Covid is increasingly important.

Call for action on skills and digital connections to revive the region post-Covid

Targeted action to boost skills and develop physical and digital infrastructure is vital if the East of England is to recover from Covid says a new CBI report, Reviving Regions sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group. It highlights long-standing regional inequalities across England which hold back growth, opportunity and productivity. In the East, it says infrastructure improvements such as better 5G digital connectivity in rural areas and an upgrade to passenger and freight capacity at Ely rail junction, ‘have the potential to be transformational.’ A fresh focus on training and retraining is another regional priority. Richard Tunnicliffe, CBI East of England director, said: “Skills gaps and pockets of low investment restrict opportunity and prosperity in parts of the East of England, and challenges around connectivity – both physical and digital – must be addressed if we are to do things differently. Action on these issues is vital if the East of England is to enjoy a fair and sustainable recovery which enables businesses to succeed not just regionally or nationally, but globally too.”

Bosses in Essex 'more positive' on the outlook than last spring

Two thirds of Essex business leaders felt 'more positive' about the future now than they did in April, according to a poll taken at Grant Thornton’s Essex Limited panel & audience discussion held in partnership with Birketts. Only 13 per cent felt less positive. The poll of 100 delegates showed the biggest challenges facing firms were changing customer demands (43 per cent), keeping their staff motivated (39 per cent) and managing cash flow (18 per cent). Trevor Ling (photo, near right), tax director at Grant Thornton, said: “It is really encouraging to hear that business leaders are feeling more positive than they were six months ago. With the immediate future becoming less predictable it is understandable that leaders are divided in what they see as their immediate challenges and now is the time for them to be putting into place a robust plan for the next few months."

Adam Jones (photo, far right) , partner at Birketts, said: “The future of the business industry in Essex is in good hands and I’m encouraged that business leaders are feeling more positive than they were earlier in the year. ... It is vital that we continue to see investment in the region to safeguard the future and, with this in mind, it is positive to hear that business leaders are still acquiring and making investments despite the pandemic.” The panel involved Avnish Goyal, chair of Hallmark Care Homes, Suzanne Horner, CEO, Gray Dawes Travel and Robert Ross, CEO, Xpediator.

See Profile Grant Thornton and Birketts

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Road transport firms face "very challenging" 2021

Covid, Brexit and the other factors will make 2021 a “very challenging year for the transport sector”, according to a poll of businesses at a road transport event held by Ashtons Legal last week. Just over four fifths of 90 businesses said Covid had impacted their performance negatively although over half were confident their business would perform better in 2021. But the sector faces problems planning around Covid uncertainties and, as yet unresolved, solutions when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. Brexit will mean greater administrative burdens on import and export customs procedures, along with licensing and documentation issues. No agreement has yet been reached for UK operators to travel beyond the country and into the EU. Meanwhile, delays and stockpiling of personal protection equipment at the Port of Felixstowe is reported to have left hauliers unable to get time slots to pick up containers. The webinar was hosted by Ashton Legal's road transport & regulatory team with guest speakers from the Driver & Vehicle Services Agency.

Photo: Tim Ridyard, Ashton Legal's road transport & regulatory partner

See Profile Ashtons Legal

New appointments to ‘drive development’ of Suffolk leisure resort

Valley Ridge Holdings, the group planning to build the £500 million leisure resort at Great Blakenham near Ipswich previously known as ‘SnOasis’, has appointed two experienced executives to help drive the development of the scheme. David Church, a former head of real estate and lodging at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Robert B. Cook, CEO of TGI Fridays Group will join the board as advisors. The scheme on the 284 acre former quarry site aims to be the first UK resort to offer all year round winter and water sports alongside leisure and hotel facilities. It is aiming to open in 2023/24 and attract 1.4 million visitors annually. The plans involve a holiday park with self-catering accommodation, sports and retail facilities; one of the largest  indoor ski slopes in the UK; a water park, spa and cinema; a 350 key four-star hotel with conference facilities and a wide range of food and drink offerings. Cameron Ogden, director of Valley Ridge Holdings, said: “The Valley Ridge resort will be a leader in its field and having David and Robert join the team is the best reflection of this. They are highly experienced in their fields and bring a stellar track record in delivering major projects." Valley Ridge Holdings, formerly Masons Quarry Investment, acquired the site from Onslow Gipping in September 2018 and the scheme was approved by the local planning committee in March 2019 and formal planning permission was granted in April 2020. A Valley Ridge statement noted that an enhanced scheme created by Masons Quarry Investment will now undergo the pre-application process.

Green plan provides ‘huge opportunity ‘ for region

The Institute of Directors will be ‘at the heart’ of the conversation to ensure the region capitalises on job creation and commercial opportunities, according to IoD East chair Biplab Rakshi (right). Referring to Boris Johnson’s plan for a ‘green industrial revolution,’ he said: “We have a huge opportunity in the East to ensure the capability we have is at the heart of the discussion around opportunities. We already have leading projects in wind power in Norfolk, nuclear energy investment in Sizewell C in Suffolk, ground-breaking research and innovation coming from Cambridge and the Thames Crossing project in Essex. This region is already leading the way in delivering clean energy solutions, and with the right focus and investment we can do much more.” A corporate energy executive with former roles at Mobil Oil and TXU Europe, Biplab Rakshi was instrumental in founding the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and is CEO of Suffolk-based Atomic Acquisitions, which focuses on low carbon energy initiatives. He added: “We have a positive agenda with great engagement from some of the region’s biggest hitters with a number of high-profile events planned in 2021 and I urge you to work with us to keep the momentum going.”

Small firms hit hardest by Covid

Small businesses were hit six times worse by Covid-19 than the recession of 2008, says a report from O2 Business and the Centre for Economic Business Research. Retail sales for small businesses fell by around 24 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, compared to the period a year earlier; during the 2008 recession the fall was around 3.9 per cent. However almost 200,000 new companies were launched in the first three months of lockdown. Daryn Park, economist at Cebr, said: “The Covid crisis of 2020 only builds on the volatility and uncertainty themes that have been coming through over recent years. Our expectation is that the post-Covid recovery period will require firms and businesses to adopt tools that increase flexibility and resilience in the face of the increasing uncertainty and disruption”.

Lack of power could stall electric vehicle charging take-up

The 2030 ban of sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles has been welcomed by property and construction consultancy Ingleton Wood but the firm is stepping up calls for infrastructure investment amid concerns that local electricity grids could struggle to cope with the scale of electric vehicle (EV) charging. The plan involves a £1.3bn investment to boost the rollout of EV charging points but Ingleton Wood says some local energy grids are close to full capacity, especially in rural areas, and need major upgrades to pave the way for residential EV charging points. Rob Diamond (photo, right), a sustainability expert at Ingleton Wood, said: “We’re calling on energy network operators, the government and transport industry stakeholders to step up plans to invest in cost-efficient and smart charging infrastructure investments that will support the uptake of electric vehicles and charging points.” It is currently not mandatory for EV charging points to be built at new homes but demand is expected to grow for widespread take-up. He added: “The huge costs to upgrade the power grid is making some new housing developments potentially commercially unviable. But on the positive side, more property developers are working with us to help overcome these problems. By approaching us early to assess local power availability they can make firm budget allowances to be able to deliver home EV charging facilities.”

See Profile Ingleton Wood

Production milestone at Cambridge digital printing company

Domino UK, the Cambs-based manufacturer of industrial coding, marking and digital printing technology, Domino UK, has reached a major production milestone despite the challenges from Covid. The company’s Cambridge manufacturing plant has delivered its 30,000th Ax-Series continuous inkjet printer, the fastest-selling product in its 40-year history. Many of Domino’s customers are in key sectors including food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and personal care, which were among those worst affected by the pandemic. Continuous inkjet is the coding solution of choice across many of these sectors, and Domino has been under pressure to keep up with demand. Carl Haycock, Domino UK’s operations director and global head of manufacturing excellence, said: “Covid-19 has put a strain on manufacturing operations on a global scale – and Domino is no exception. It really tested our agility, but in the UK, there has been a huge commitment on the part of our frontline staff who have continued to work when they are needed most, and so it’s wonderful now to celebrate meeting such a significant milestone.”

Passing a major production milestone: Domino staff in Bar Hill deliver 30,000th