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17 January 2018

2018: A year of uncertainty, but opportunity

2018 will continue the trend of uncertainty seen in 2017. Whilst for the time being businesses can take advantage of the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union, Brexit is looming.

With Norfolk Chamber recently sharing that 55% of local businesses have yet to feel the effect of Brexit (in a survey by Price Bailey), it is likely we will see it taken into account in longer term business planning this year.

Whilst Brexit negotiations have at last moved on to the next phase, the transitional or longer-term relationship with the EU remains up for grabs. Although the Government will be substantially preoccupied with the next phase of Brexit negotiations, businesses are left with little choice to make as much hay as they can.

We see the success stories over the coming 12 months as being those businesses which are innovative and adaptable. To this end, we foresee a growth in investment in the creative and ideas economy. As Brexit casts a shadow over larger businesses’ plans for trade and even future manufacturing strategies, there is potential for smaller companies, particularly start-ups, to break through.

There is a steady growth within the digital and creative industries and we expect this to remain in 2018. Local institutions like NUA and UEA are proving to be tremendous breeding grounds for young entrepreneurs and will be key drivers for future growth.

For larger and more established businesses, there is potential for consolidation across industry, whilst owners of SMEs may see the uncertainty as an ideal time to retire. |There will also be businesses which will take advantage of the market to jostle for position in the new economy post Brexit.

Much of this buying activity stems from the fact that the corporate fundamentals in 2017 were solid with earnings growth enabling certain businesses to create a cash war-chest to expand when the opportunity arises. It remains to be seen how long this can continue.

Already, in the first few days of 2018, we have a client who is acquiring a substantial creative industries business which will effectively double their turnover and workforce. In the food sector an established client is looking to leverage their existing presence into expanding its franchise network across the region. These are both classic examples of the synergies that come from uniting solid businesses.

Ideas, the intangible, and individual empowerment will be major themes of 2018. Whilst it has long been accepted that personal data is an invaluable asset for business, regulation has struggled to keep up with technical and online developments, but we are set to see this change in 2018. The demand for increasingly personalised and intuitive online services necessitates businesses knowing more and more about their customer’s lives. However, this is at odds with today’s expectations of privacy and personal ownership of data. Regulators and individuals will derive substantial new powers under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with accountability and control of one’s own personal data being a key theme requiring that businesses demonstrate their compliance. Compliance with this new regime will be a major challenge and we have already seen increased demand for advice in this area.

There is a continued trend towards a more consumer-focused model of public services; it remains to be seen how this might transition into a new partnership between government and businesses, and how this can be balanced against key stakeholder issues. Help to buy has been one such example of a key incentive for the construction industry. Designed to assist with a chronic shortage of housing, this initiative also creates new challenges for small communities.

There will be opportunities here for businesses willing to address the demands of a growing and increasingly complex society. We anticipate that in 2018 the care sector will invest heavily and bring on-stream high-quality facilities for those with ever greater needs for care and nursing, particularly for those suffering with dementia. At least two of our clients have exciting projects of this kind in the pipeline.

Trying to predict what 2018 has in store has been a challenge. Businesses will need to find ever new and novel ways to create opportunity from uncertainty. We look forward to continuing to work alongside them delivering solid and clear advice in ever uncertain times.

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