Thames Valley: Reasons for cautious optimism among businesses

There have been times during the past year when good news has seemed in short supply, if not entirely absent, but Tim Clark, joint managing partner at leading Thames Valley law firm Blandy & Blandy, looks at some of the recent news that may provide businesses based in and around the Thames Valley with a welcome boost.

Tim-Clark2The office for budget responsibility

As highlighted by Rishi Sunak in the spring budget, the OBR’s latest forecast predicts that the UK economy will return to pre-pandemic levels by next summer, six months earlier than it has previously suggested.

While the unveiling of Boris Johnson’s “cautious roadmap” for the coming months has led the OBR to revise its growth forecast for 2021 (to 4% from 5.5%), it anticipates GDP growth of 7.3% in 2022, the highest rate seen since the 1940s.

Unemployment is also expected to peak at 6.5%, much lower than the 11.9% forecast by the OBR last July, and below the peak that followed the global financial crisis – no doubt helped by the extension of the furlough scheme again.

The chancellor did caution that by 2026 the economy may still be 3% below the levels expected prior to the pandemic and the UK’s borrowing now stands at more than 100% of the value of total economy – a level not seen since 1958 – but the cost of borrowing is at least at a record low.

The Bank of England’s monetary policy report

As the Bank of England voted to hold interest rates at 0.1% last month, it also predicted that economic growth will “recover rapidly” in 2021, thanks to increasing consumer confidence and spending as a result of the vaccination programme that has so far been so successful.

The bank’s monetary policy report for February suggests that GDP increased in the final quarter of last year, to a level around 8% below that of 12 months earlier and described the outcome as “materially stronger than expected” in its November report.

Obviously, the current lockdown will take its toll and in this quarter, the bank predicts a fall in GDP of 4%, but that is not as severe as the fall seen during the first national lockdown last spring reflecting how the country has overall been able to adapt, though this lockdown has, of course, been harder on some sectors than others.

Despite the more positive news, the report did caution that “the outlook for the economy remains unusually uncertain. It depends on the evolution of the pandemic, measures taken to protect public health, and how households, businesses and financial markets respond to these developments.”

The Good Growth for Cities index

PWC/Demos’ recently published Good Growth for Cities report ranks Reading second only to nearby Oxford in a list of UK cities best placed to withstand the economic shock resulting from the pandemic, and to stage a strong recovery.

The index is based on Reading’s sustained success in recent years when it comes to job and business creation, income levels, quality of life, health and having a skilled workforce. It says that Reading has been comparatively less affected than many areas of the UK, ranking it 10th in the country.

Employment data shows that furlough leave has been much more restricted than in some areas of the country, whilst job vacancy rates in certain key sectors remain strong. Beyond that, unlike the 2008 financial crisis when capital investment largely fell away, activity is still planned but paused.

How Blandy & Blandy can help your business

As with any period of rapid change and economic uncertainty, the ongoing situation has resulted in and will continue to offer significant opportunities as well as challenges for businesses and their owners and management teams.

Blandy & Blandy aims to establish a strong professional relationship and understanding with its clients from the outset with a view to working with them over the long-term to help their businesses to identify and capitalise on opportunities and grow, whilst protecting against the risks posed by the challenges.

Whether a business is looking to renegotiate and update key commercial contracts or to restructure its workforce, reassessing its property needs, or faced with a dispute, Blandy & Blandys specialist lawyers have the expertise and experience to help.

For further information or legal advice, please visit www.blandy.co.uk, contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800.