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Simon Beardsley


Simon Beardsley is Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Chamber; one of the largest business networks in the county providing first-class business support to companies of all shapes and sizes in a range of industries and sectors.

2015 was an exhilarating year for business, with our Quarterly Economic Survey revealing that over half of all survey respondents said they expected to see improvements in their sales, profitability and turnover.

Over the summer this positive trend continued with more businesses looking to recruit staff thanks to raising domestic demand. This local trend echoed the national picture with service sales enjoying sustained year-on-year growth, as the volume of retail sales in August increased by 3.7% compared with July.

This was the 29th consecutive month of year-on-year growth. However, in comparison to the domestic market, October’s results showed that overseas sales and orders had fallen for the first time since 2009, which is a result no one forecasted a year ago.

As the Chamber, everything we have done this year has one aim, to help businesses across Lincolnshire prosper and grow. As a not for profit organisation, every penny that we earn is spent on helping our members.

On the ground we continued to bring an action packed programme of activity. There is truly too much to mention about all our undertakings, but one of the highlights for me is our involvement in the Greater Lincolnshire Capital Growth Fund.

The grants rang between £10,000 and £250,000, and so far we have awarded over £700,000 to Lincolnshire businesses who have demonstrated sound business growth and investment potential, which will result in new jobs being created.

Since it launched in October 2014 we’ve answered over 200 enquiries and met with 46 SMEs on a one-to-one basis to discuss their needs. Thanks to the money already awarded, 149 jobs will be created, with another three being safeguarded. We’re on track to meet, if not exceed our targets, which will have a significant impact on the county.

Thanks to our Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), we know that many Lincolnshire firms, especially those in the domestic market, will start 2016 in a better place than this time last year.

Using 2015 as a benchmark, we’ll continue to see confidence grow among the business community. In September 2015, 55% of businesses were expecting their profitability to increase over the next 12 months, while 60% expected their turnover to increase too.

Since the recession hit, another barrier to growth has always been cash flow, but more businesses are reporting improved cash flow, with 37% saying it continued to improve (September 2015).

However, the path to recovery has not been a smooth one, and there are many challenges on the horizon. But with careful planning we can identify pressure points, and try to offer solutions. There is no doubt that budget cuts in the public sector will once again hit the business community hard, taking much needed funding away from the coalface.

Media reports speculate that councils across England have already had their government funding slashed by up to 40% since 2010, with more to come next year. However projects like the Capital Growth Fund will go some way to bridge the gap. And among many things, George Osborne’s July budget announced a new National Living Wage of £7.20 by April 2016, rising to £9 by 2020, which could hit any business employing minimum wage staff, and those slightly above, very hard.

As well as all this, international trade is likely to remain challenging in early 2016. The weakness of the euro against the pound has made it harder for UK businesses to compete.

As we see out 2015, more volatility around rates can’t help business planning into 2016 either and this lack of certainty is likely to continue as we progress into 2016. This could put off many new businesses that have the potential to expand into overseas markets.

But through our programme of International Trade workshops, documentation seminars, currency partners and activity with UKTI we’re helping businesses understand the long-term rewards of international growth, rather than the short-term challenges many have seen in news reports.

Next year will also be a fork in the road on a lot of issues including the EU referendum and devolution. As levels of debate surround staying or leaving the EU increase in 2016, business confidence has the possibility to be undermined by the instability of Britain’s position.

In terms of devolution, I am interested to see the impact that it could have on Lincolnshire. We have heard how businesses broadly support the devolution of powers to local areas in England. If done properly, it can drive greater efficiency, accountability, and better results.

I believe that decisions on local growth are best taken when businesses and councils decide what arrangements work best for their areas. Future devolution plans must have maximum accountability to local business and I therefore look forward to leaning more about the details.

Simon Beardsley is Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest business networks in the county providing first-class business support to companies of all shapes and sizes in a range of industries and sectors.

Simon Beardsley is Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Chamber; one of the largest business networks in the county providing first-class business support to companies of all shapes and sizes in a range of industries and sectors.

There has been a more optimistic feeling around this year, compared to the last, and looking ahead to 2015, we must work hard to bring even more confidence back into the economy.

At a national level, the UK GDP growth forecast for 2014 has slipped in the year from 3.2% to 3.0% in 2014, but this figure still represents the fastest growth experienced by the British economy since 2007.

However, downgrades to the growth is a warning sign that we still face hurdles to securing a balanced and sustainable recovery. A number of headwinds from the global economy are also having a real impact on British businesses.

At the end of 2014 the eurozone remains weak, with a real risk of deflation, growth in emerging markets has slowed and political uncertainty in Ukraine, Russia and the Middle East and elsewhere is affecting business and consumer confidence.

Despite this, the outlook on business in Lincolnshire has continued to be positive with figures from our Quarterly Economic Survey, which takes a health check on local business every three months, showing steady positive performance across areas such as sales, profitability and turnover throughout 2014.

We are encouraged by the government’s continued efforts to curb business rate increases and the announcement of a review into the future structure of Britain’s business rates system. This iniquitous tax is the highest in Europe and been for to long a drag anchor on investment and growth.

One of our stand out highlights of this year was winning the bid, with partners Federation of Small Business, Lincolnshire County Council and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, for the Greater Lincolnshire Capital Growth Fund. Since the recession we know that county firms have found it difficult to access finance for capital expenditure through conventional methods. So with these funds, we are able to help Lincolnshire companies grow and develop; which in turn will create new jobs and support the local economy.

A significant milestone for us was the news that more than 50 000 homes and businesses have taken up superfast broadband, especially in a number of more rural locations around the county as well as Lincoln City. Our members have long raised the issue of poor connectivity holding back their growth potential, and this progress underlines the commitment of all involved parties in addressing this problem.

Another positive outcome of 2014 was the announcement of the InterCity East Coast rail franchise being awarded to Stagecoach and Virgin Group. We believe that Lincoln, and its business community, has a great deal to offer customers in the south of the country.

The announcement is an exciting step towards making our city, with its world-class visitor economy worth £150 million, internationally renowned universities, manufacturers and award-winning food producers, more accessible. However, we will continue to lobby for the timescale of direct trains to London to be brought forward ahead of schedule.

While we reflect on 2014 and its challenges, we remain optimistic as we look to 2015. Investment by business in the county is at a high with a 9% increase in investment plans across both manufacturers and service businesses. More than four in five private sector employers expect to invest in the business in the next two years.

This is an exciting time to look forward and to prepare our county for business growth and success while being mindful of business concerns. We will continue to make every effort at a local, regional and national level to support local businesses and give them the tools and support to ensure that our local economy continues to succeed and prosper.

Simon Beardsley is Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Chamber; one of the largest business networks in the county providing first-class business support to companies of all shapes and sizes in a range of industries and sectors.

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