Hopes and Fears for 2019: Analysis from the small business community
It’s been an action-packed year for the Norfolk business scene, with many triumphing despite falling consumer confidence.
But with Brexit looming in 2019, we asked experts from across the county’s industries and sectors, what their hopes and fears are for the year ahead.
Tune in every day for the rest of the week for analysis from the property, employment and export markets, as well as analysis on the local economy.
Today we hear from the small business community, with analysis from Andrew Mower, the Federation of Small Businesses’ development manager in East Anglia:
Next year will present a number of opportunities and challenges for the small business community.
Our research revealed a sharp fall in the confidence of small firms in East Anglia over the last quarter of 2018, and we think that the political uncertainty from the Brexit process is taking its toll.
We will be hoping for the confirmation in 2019 of a Brexit deal that allows our small businesses to trade easily with the EU, and that ensures they have access to the skills they need to grow.
As has been clear throughout 2018, Brexit is an issue that absorbs so much of the political bandwidth that other issues struggle for the attention they merit.
For our region this includes the urgent need to upgrade the road networks, and we want to hear positive news from the government about funding for improvements to major routes such as the A47 and the A14. But we’re also eager to see a renewed focus on the state of our local roads, which have deteriorated in recent times as cash-strapped councils have struggled to invest in the necessary maintenance.
On the digital side, we are hoping to see continued progress in the roll-out of superfast broadband, as it is clear that too many of our small firms are still facing poor coverage and slow speeds.
While we welcome 5G trials, we also want to see continued investment in 4G as we know that Norfolk and Suffolk have some way to go before a reliable service is available across the region.
Many of our small firms are increasingly having to rely on their mobile phones for banking, given the widespread branch closures that we have seen over the past couple of years.
Bank closures have been just one of the challenges that have put real pressure on our high street businesses.
We hope that local authorities here in East Anglia will continue to innovate in finding ways to support businesses in their town centres. We also look forward to finding out more about the government’s £675mn High Streets Fund, which was announced at the Budget and will help local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their town centres.
While the government has also cut business rates bills for retailers, we remain of the view that the system is in need of fundamental reform. There are no quick fixes for the challenges on the high street, but we must continue to find ways to ease the pressure.