So, here we are again in September. Do the summer months go by more quickly than the winter ones? As I get older I'm increasingly convinced that they do. That aside, now we're all back in the office it's interesting hearing from colleagues and acquaintances how they feel the summer has gone, and how they're feeling about the coming months.
And, from what I'm hearing, despite some challenges with the economy and broader business confidence, there's a distinctly positive vibe in the air.
It's an interesting time to be gauging business sentiment, particularly for the South West, which, as we all know, for many of our businesses, is a critical time and a busy summer can have big repercussions. The region attracts more visitors than anywhere else in the country apart from London, and food and hospitality account for about 10% of the local economy, although if you factor in the benefits to the industries that feed into these sectors, or are affected by them, such as retails and property for example, that number rises significantly.
But, important as these industries are, our economy in the South West is broader than that. Worth around £64bn a year, we have major strengths and expertise in marine industries, photonics, environmental science, nuclear, aerospace, advanced engineering, digital innovation and agritech too. It's great to see that we have a growing and vibrant gig economy, with over 40,000 businesses set up in the region last year according to research by trade-body R3 – a great indicator of the popularity of our region as a place to live and work. Of course, these give a nod to great confidence in the region's economic prospects.
Also, it was great to see Exeter do so well in the recent PwC "Good Growth for Cities Index", which ranks 50 of the UK's largest cities based on the public's assessment of 12 economic measures. Criteria included jobs, health, income, safety and skills, as well as work-life balance, housing, travel-to-work times, income equality, high street shops, environment and business start-ups. Exeter came in 3rd, beaten only by Oxford and Swindon and was particularly strong on health, jobs and safety.
Positive as all of this is, we must all be aware of the broader economic and socio-political situation. Inflation remains doggedly high, a problem, alongside sluggish economic growth, that is common to many of our trading nation partners. In the UK we likely face a General Election next year, which invariably makes the markets nervous and dampens investor appetite, but given we know that it's on the horizon, it'll be less of a hindrance than the influences outside of our control.
I'll be in peak confidence-enquiring mode at an upcoming event that Trowers is organising in conjunction with Taste of the West and Bishop Fleming. In October leading figures from the South West food and drink industry will gather to discuss the future of their sector, looking at challenges and opportunities and I'm hoping to gauge business sentiment as we head into autumn. I'll be taking soundings on how the attendees are feeling about their sectors and industries, our outlook and UK Plc, and I'll let you know what they had to say later next month.
I'm hoping that I'll be hearing positive noises from the attendees, particularly in the areas of sustainability, as we rise to meet the net zero challenge. The South West is making great strides forward in this important area.
I'm quietly optimistic – hopefully you are too.
Find out more about 'The future of food & drink in the South West - fostering economic growth and sustainability' event, and as ever feel free to get in touch if you'd like to – my colleagues here at Trowers and I are always happy to chat and hear your thoughts.