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UK General Election 2019:
Wales’ Business Leaders Have Their Say

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As the UK General Election 2019 ends, the nation has spoken and Boris Johnson, securing 365 seats, sees an overall Commons majority of 80, winning the election and defeating Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

Boris Johnson led The Conservatives to win their biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, taking seats from Labour across the UK, whilst also securing seats across north Wales, as well as Bridgend in the south. The election turnout in Wales was 66.6%, down from the 2017 election by 2%, with an overall UK turnout of 67.3% of registered voters, approximately 1.5% less than the previous election.

In our latest Business News Wales feature, we speak with a number of Wales' business leaders and influencers for their views on the latest election results.

 

Robert Lloyd-Griffiths, Director, IoD Wales

Business as a group within society does not decide elections, but in the coming days leaders of companies large and small will be responding to the new situation. After years of parliamentary chaos, directors want to see a Government that is clear-sighted about the challenges facing businesses, and ambitious, but realistic, in its response. British companies have been resilient amid the confusion, but they are eager for some clarity now.

Business leaders’ thoughts will immediately be turning to Brexit. For directors, ‘Get Brexit Done’ will only have meaning once the details of our long-term future relationship with the EU are clear, they need a framework to plan from. The Prime Minister must resist the urge for arbitrary negotiating deadlines and should commit to a proper adjustment period that starts when businesses know the full detail of what changes they may be facing. Our members have made clear that the content and shape of any new deal are much more important than simply the speed in getting there.

We will be engaging with the Secretary State for Wales’ offices so that our members’ opinions will be heard regarding the priorities of the new government in relation to the Welsh economy and this will start immediately.

 

Kevin Morgan, NatWest Cymru Board

Businesses across Wales have been looking for stability in relation to Brexit for some time now, so I think the election result does give clarity moving forward and the opportunity to at last reach a positive outcome in terms of a deal.

Regardless of political persuasion this is a good thing because the current status quo has impacted businesses in Wales and in the longer-term this isn’t good for our economy and growth. Although there are still questions marks in terms of the deal itself, I think the election result means businesses will now be able to forecast with more confidence and assurance.

The most recent NatWest Cymru PMI indicated that business activity growth had quickened to a three-month high and we anticipate this will accelerate through Q1 2020 as there is more certainty following such a definitive outcome to the general election’.

 

Ben Francis, Policy Chair, FSB Wales

On behalf of FSB Wales, I congratulate Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party on the General Election result.

Now that the election is over, it is vital that all of the parties come together and focus on what Wales needs from our UK Parliament; to constructively work towards an orderly Brexit that works for businesses and the economy across the UK nations.

In order to achieve this, the Prime Minister must work closely and effectively with Welsh Government, and we look forward to seeing how a commitment to this will be reflected in the new cabinet and the workings of UK Government.

Ahead of the General Election, FSB called for the next UK Government to be ambitious for Wales, to prioritise investment and growth across the country, and to look at how we can promote confidence within the business community. Devolving Air Passenger Duty, electrifying the Great Western Main line from Cardiff to Swansea and committing to Track 360 for North Wales are all ways of doing this.

The Prime Minister and UK Government must start as they mean to go in in forming a constructive relationship with business in Wales and helping build an economy that supports businesses to thrive.

On Brexit, Wales currently receives significant amounts of money through European funding, which supports key aspects of the business environment and vital support for businesses.

We call on the new UK Government to guarantee that Wales continues to receive the same level of funding, which should then be placed under the spending control of Welsh Government. It is vital that UK Government prioritises providing Welsh businesses with the certainty they need in order to thrive, and we look forward to working with the new government and the next Secretary of State for Wales to achieve this.

 

Nick Evans, Chairman, Mid Wales Chamber of Commerce

The election outcome provides economic certainty for businesses, something that is crucial to us all. We are now able to give the green light to starting our next phase of town centre regeneration projects which will provide job opportunities and really boost the local economy.

Further afield, the promise by the Government to spend heavily on public infrastructure is welcome news and allows us to plan for further expansion and recruitment opportunities.

The election result cements the promised investment through the planned Mid Wales Growth Deal which will bring substantial investment – initially £50 million – into the area to stimulate the economy and bring welcome transformational projects.

Plans can now be accelerated by all stakeholders to use this as a springboard to really place Mid Wales on the UK map and attract further investment and employment opportunities to the area.

 

Ian Price, Director-General, CBI

Congratulations to Boris Johnson and the Conservative party. After three years of gridlock, the Prime Minister has a clear mandate to govern. Businesses across the UK urge him to use it to rebuild confidence in our economy and break the cycle of uncertainty.

Employers share the Prime Minister’s optimism for the UK and are ready to play a leading role. They can bring the innovation, investment and jobs for a new era of inclusive growth. The biggest issues of our times – from tackling climate change to reskilling the workforce for new technologies – can only be delivered through real partnership between government and business.

The starting point must be rebuilding business confidence, and early reassurance on Brexit will be vital. Firms will continue to do all they can to prepare for Brexit but will want to know they won’t face another no deal cliff-edge next year. Pro-enterprise policies on immigration, infrastructure, innovation and skills, will help relaunch the UK on the world stage.

Despite recent challenges, the UK remains a great place to start and build a business. A new contract between enterprise and government can make the UK a global magnet for investment, powering higher productivity and living standards across the UK.

Stuart Price, Partner and Actuary, Quantum Advisory

Primarily, the Conservatives have promised to revive Guy Opperman’s three-part pension bill which supports collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes and the pensions dashboard while also giving the Pensions Regulator (tPR) new powers over defined benefit (DB) schemes.

CDCs are an alternative option to the traditional choice of either Defined Benefit (DB) or Defined Contribution (DC) schemes and work by pooling the collective employee and employer contributions together in a combined fund with members choosing how their funds are invested. From within the industry, CDCs are seen as a positive new method of pension provision.

News that the government is still backing the pensions dashboard is reassuring as there has been a lot of toing and froing on the matter, with it looking likely to scrapped at one point. The pensions dashboard will allow everyone to access and manage all their private pension arrangements in one place along with their State Pension. The tool will enable people to see exactly how much they will receive upon retirement and give them the nudge they may need to save more.

Providing the Pensions Regulator with more powers is a necessary step to protect workers’ pension schemes from reckless behaviour by company bosses. Additional powers could allow tPR to impose substantial fines on the companies and business owners who do not comply with their auto enrolment duties and other non-compliance issues.

The Conservatives would also make a review into the pension tax complications impacting senior NHS workers, a priority. This is crucial, as currently, senior NHS staff in Wales and England are reportedly turning down overtime as the controversial pension Annual Allowance would mean they wouldn’t get paid much more as the additional time worked would land them with big tax bills. It’s definitely an issue that needs looking into; the sooner the better.

Mr Johnson will also keep the triple lock and has mentioned free bus passes and free TV licenses for pensioners.

Whether the government upholds its promises or how long it takes…only time will tell.

 

Guy Foster, Head of Research, Brewin Dolphin

The potential for a smooth Brexit removes some of the downside risk for the UK economy.

This should be positive for both business and consumer confidence, at least in the short term, with a gradual acceleration in GDP growth and confidence.

However, a lot can change over the coming months as the finer detail of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU is negotiated. This is still, after all, just the beginning of the exit process. Even with the passing of the withdrawal agreement, the UK could still leave the EU without a deal at the end of 2020 if trade negotiations don’t proceed successfully. It remains to be seen whether the UK will have tariff-free trade or World Trade Organisation terms.

International investors who avoided UK assets in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum may be encouraged back to the market after the election result. While a stronger pound will hit earnings for multinationals earning their profits overseas, it should be positive for domestically orientated companies.

 

Stephen Clifton, Head of UK Commercial, Knight Frank

Real estate decision makers have long craved greater political certainty, and at this election that is the headline they have woken up to.

We expect this clearer direction for UK politics to empower corporates to dust off expansion plans, developers to commence new schemes, and investors at home, and abroad, to quickly buy into what now looks like a very attractively priced real estate market.  2020 will therefore be a much more active year on all fronts, as the UK reconfirms its status as one of the world’s few truly global real estate markets.

 

Liam Bailey, Global Head of Research, Knight Frank

The Conservative Party has won a majority of just under 80 seats in the UK general election. As a result, the UK is likely to leave the European Union on 31 January, with a vote in Parliament and a Queen’s Speech expected before Christmas.

This will, for the time being, end the uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit and pave the way for the release of some of the pent-up demand that has built in property markets in recent years. The extent to which this translates into transaction activity in the short-term will depend on the size of the pricing expectation gap between buyers and sellers.

Supply is likely to rise as political uncertainty recedes and private and public spending stimulate the UK economy. This will put downwards pressure on prices; however, some vendors may expect a bounce in prices, which may create a stand-off between buyers and sellers as the market re-prices.

A shortage of supply in the lettings market may be further exacerbated as owners attempt to capitalise on any perceived ‘bounce’ and list their property on the sales market, which would put upwards pressure on rental values.

Uncertainty over future tax changes in the Budget, which is scheduled to take place in February, may prompt some to accelerate plans in coming weeks.

The Party has said it will refocus its efforts on home ownership, particularly for first-time buyers. Though the manifesto reiterated the Help to Buy Equity Loan Scheme would be scaled back in 2021, subsequently ending in 2023, it pledged a review of methods to support home ownership follow its completion.

Meanwhile, interest rates are likely to begin a gradual process of normalisation in 2020 as Brexit risks fade, which could mark the end of a period of ultra-low mortgage rates, which is something borrowers may factor into their decision-making.

The pound rose against the dollar on news of the election result – from the $1.30 it was trading at before the result to around $1.34 – this upwards trajectory could begin to encourage overseas buyers into the market before any further erosion of their buying power.

 

David Rowlands, Director, Platform Resourcing Limited

Clearly the majority of those who have voted have shown respect to the referendum decision and have voted with Brexit top of mind. Welsh businesses will take confidence that we can now move forward and also dismiss some of the uncertainty.

Although the Labour party managed to retain a majority within Wales, they still lost 6 traditionally held Labour seats, a pattern that was mirrored across the UK. We still have a great deal to shout about within Wales. We have a range of thriving industries which supply to the Global market including Semiconductor, Automotive and Precision Engineering and to continue to be a Global player the Welsh Government and Westminster need to ensure the support plan is in place long after our EU Memberships has ended.

 

Val Hawkins, Chief Executive, MWT Cymru

We would like the new UK Government to reduce the VAT rate and review Business Rates to increase the tourism industry’s competitiveness.

We also encourage the UK Government to consider a more realistic level of support for the tourism industry in Wales. Visitors contribute around £6.2 billion to the Welsh economy, yet Government investment in support programmes has probably been no more than £10 million annually. A development tourism fund of £20 million annually would be more realistic.

We would like the UK Government, through Visit Britain, to ensure that Wales has a meaningful tourism marketing budget, compared with rival destinations, to develop key overseas markets.

 

Katie Parsons-Young, Director, Kusten Vorland Ltd

As the Director of a licensed asbestos removal company the future of my business is more uncertain today than it was yesterday. We are highly regulated, second only to nuclear in the UK. Our legislation, the Control of Asbestos Regulations revised in 2012 is derived from the 2009 European Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work. Leaving Europe could lead to a further change in asbestos legislation and working practices which is both costly and consuming for every business in our industry.

Since 2012 our clients have invested in bringing their commercial portfolios up to European Standards and now what? A further period of instability isn’t welcome.

For me the result couldn’t be worse.

 

Toby Kernon, CEO & Founder, Wagonex

The car industry is facing a challenging year, and there are several unknowns ahead in the wake of the general election. Regardless of the result, significant changes are happening – car prices are down across the board. Having recently moved to Wales, with a growing team and a new platform, we can continue to expand in 2020, which we see as the Year of Subscription.

 

David Jones, Partner, Edward Hughes Solicitors

The Conservative Party needs to fix the Criminal Justice System. Courts are crumbling, the CPS and Probation services are underfunded, and the UK Government has offered no new money, so how are vulnerable people meant to get help if for 10 years legal aid funding has been cut?

I can't see ‘getting Brexit done' will release any more money to help with funding, and to top it all they are going to stop judicial review. The future of small –medium sized legal aid practices in North Wales is at risk – there will be legal deserts where people just can't get advice.

 

Paul Delves, Managing Director, Montgomery Waters

From a business point of view, we are totally relieved that the General Election is over, and Brexit is now happening. We can now take forward our business plan for 2020.

An investment of circa £8m is planned for 2020 but was seriously threatened by the uncertainly of an anti-business Government being elected. I am extremely relieved and full of positivity for the future.

 

Abigail Moses, Director, Ivy Marketing 

As a self-employed, new mother working in the digital space Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto resonated with me, being clear about ways in which Labour would support working parents, business owners and make broadband accessible to everyone free of charge.

However, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit causing businesses to stagnate, Boris’ passion to ‘get Brexit done’ is something I can certainly see value in.

I think we have an interesting few months ahead and I'm intrigued to see how industries such as construction, manufacturing and finance react. With business spending being tightened due to the uncertainty of Brexit, I believe we will see Welsh businesses push on and plan for growth in 2020.

 

Tony Dowling, Co-Founder, Novo Consultancy

I think this result and I assuming the imminent passing of the withdrawal agreement is going to be bad for Wales. Brexit is an economic nightmare from a number of considerations, and don’t forget, the process is just starting. Leaving the EU is going to be a long and drawn out process, with the potential for further depression in demand as people wait for clarity.

Let’s hope Boris, now he has his ‘thumping’ majority, ditches the ultra-right wing no deal perspective, and peruses what might be a more natural ‘one nation conservative’ soft deal. Thereby minimising the impact on Wales and its small business community.

 

Felicity Rees, Senior Partner, PwC Cardiff

The election result provides the UK with a large Parliamentary majority for the first time in more than ten years. Businesses like certainty, and so we expect to see Welsh businesses and investors making more definitive decisions about Brexit and longer-term strategies in the coming months.

As our recent UK Economic Outlook showed, Wales suffers from having a greater reliance on manufacturing than many regions. While this has been adversely affected by global trade tensions and the slowdown in Eurozone growth, the productivity issue faced by the country is a longer-term challenge. Wales needs the combined power of its devolved government, the central government administration and business to deliver more investment in skills and infrastructure.

 

Gareth Jones, Managing Director, U.K. Leisure Living

The outcome was the right one for the country at this time. We need stability. We need Brexit done and we need to get this country back on track. Now we have clarity as business owners and can move forward with our growth projects creating jobs and local wealth.

We have seen consumer buying confidence at an all-time low this year and have seen over the last few years, the trading problems caused by Brexit. We are looking forward to business stability in the U.K. for the next 5 years.

 

Sian Pryce, Managing Director of Rhino Contract Services

With this vote we hope the business community can return to some state of stability, building on their processes to make them more profitable.

For us, we are passionate about helping companies organically grow and hope the Party can also support them in doing this. I think the impact of the vote will give businesses more direction. With Brexit expected to be achieved by the end of next month, businesses can start to think about how they can thrive outside of the EU.

 

David Baldwin, Co-Founder of Twenty4 Fire and Security

For us, we were keen to get some clarity on Brexit and prepare for any changes to business laws and taxes we could expect. As a fire safety company, we have been understandably intrigued by Parties' different approaches to fire safety policy, learning what their new policies would mean for the industry and the public.

Boris Johnson has now publicly committed to supporting high rise residential residents with the removal of unsafe cladding and says he will continue with the process of materials testing. It will be interesting to see how this and other fire safety-related promises pan out.

 

Andrew Roberts, Founder of RhinoRecruitment.com

Since the Brexit vote 2 years ago, many companies have been scared to grow and recruit during uncertain times. Now, with Boris’ clear direction and Brexit timeframe I think business activity will pick up, strengthening the jobs market subsequently.

We have agencies in both the construction and manufacturing industries; industries that have been hugely impacted by the uncertain terms of our Brexit agreement. And, with such industries having a huge impact on the overall economy, gaining clarity and encouraging them to bounce back is something I expect to see in the coming months.

As a business we are excited to be supporting clients across all of our sectors. From construction and manufacturing to finance and IT, we are prepared for a national jobs boost across the board.

 

Tej Randeva, CEO and Founder of Anything for Hire

Although Brexit doesn't have a huge impact on our business, we do not like the uncertainty. The public clearly voted (majority) to be out of Europe therefore the Government should give the people what they voted for. That is democracy. The Conservative Party are doing the right thing and we are backing them all the way.