Business leaders in the North West are calling for next month’s Budget to prioritise commitments to level up the region, increase support for digital transformation, and provide incentives for employers to invest in skills development and talent attraction.
These are the top asks reported in a survey of the region’s leading mid-market businesses, carried out by Grant Thornton UK LLP earlier this month.
Despite the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19, business sentiment in the North West was largely positive, with more than 40% of respondents very optimistic about revenue growth over the remainder of the year, and 48% at least somewhat optimistic.
This corresponded with overall confidence on the outlook for the UK economy with four in 10 business leaders feeling very positive about the outlook for the country in the months ahead.
There was some inter-regional variation on which COVID-19 support measures would be most helpful to extend. Business leaders in the Liverpool City Region (LCR) called for the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility to continue, with 46% citing it as the most important, compared to just a third of respondents nationally. One in four Greater Manchester-based businesses want the Chancellor to extend the business rates holiday as a priority. This was also cited as a key support measure by 30% of LCR respondents.
In a list of longer-term policies aimed at eliciting structural change, almost a third (29%) of North West leaders want Rishi Sunak to unveil tangible commitments to levelling up, with more devolution and investment in the region.
Other top priorities differed slightly between the North West’s two largest city-regions. Businesses in the Liverpool City Region called for more support and incentives to encourage businesses to invest in skills and training.
The report found this was the overwhelming priority with 40% of businesses demanding the Budget to deliver in this area.
In Greater Manchester, support for businesses to adopt and benefit from digital transformation was flagged as a major priority, with 27% of businesses citing it as vital.
Carl Williams, North West Managing Partner at Grant Thornton said: “It’s unsurprising to see widespread calls for an extension to the business rates holiday. The North West has been particularly hard hit by restrictions placed on retail and leisure businesses. The Chancellor must continue to support them properly as we approach what we all hope is the end of lockdown.
“The overall sense of optimism amid mid-market business leaders is gratifying and tallies with our experience of advising clients during the pandemic. Across the board, they have demonstrated remarkable resilience, innovation, and spirit in the face of unprecedented challenge. It’s now time for a Budget which rewards this: with tangible financial commitments to the devolution agenda; and support for businesses to invest in the new skills, re-training, and digital ways of working which will be key for sustainable businesses and rewarding careers.”