Hosted by sponsors Grant Thornton, Blake Morgan, HSBC and The Business Magazine, this Solent 250 event in Eastleigh was geared to look forward and be thought provoking. Local business leaders of the Solent 250 companies were not disappointed by astute presentations made by HSBC chief economist Mark Berrisford-Smith who gave his thoughts on 2015 business concerns, and Grant Thornton partner Norman Armstrong who shared insights from his firm‘s ‘Future Perspectives 2028‘ programme – contemplating our future world.
Mark Berrisford-Smith stated that although the overall global economy is “stuck in a bit of a rut with some good, some bad bits; the UK economy is one of the good bits. It grew by 2.6% last year and will do about the same in 2015, with upside potential.“ But there were three upcoming concerns:
Grexit: Will Greece leave the eurozone?
The arcane process for electing a Greek president had produced a change in government – one championing less austerity and aiming to renegotiate Greece‘s EU bailout, with its risk of a eurozone exit.
Negotiations would be tough and long because most of the Greek debt is in the hands of other EU governments needing to reassure their electorate. “I would expect a deal to be done linking Greek repayments to Greece‘s economic growth performance. Greece won‘t be allowed to run away from its debt.“
The biggest risk for Europe is not that Greece leaves the eurozone, but of it leaving and doing very well, said Berrisford-Smith. There are other eurozone countries in serious debt, with dissatisfied voices within their electorate.
X-it: How will the UK vote in May?
With opinion polls currently putting the Conservatives and Labour roughly equal on about 32% popularity, the next government looked likely to be a hung parliament, Berrisford-Smith suggested.
“The problem is, this time around building a coalition government is going to be much harder.“ The election winner would likely need two partners to form a functioning government, and stock markets don‘t like unstable and weak governments.
The key to manageable power – and the keys to Number 10 – will be the battle between the big two parties, and which can take 3% of the poll from the other.
Either way, whoever wins will still have a very large national deficit to resolve.
Brexit: Should Britain leave the EU?
Should the Conservatives win there will be a referendum on EU membership. This will bring uncertainty, which could cast a pall over the economy for two years. David Cameron will need to negotiate and determine what a British exit from the EU would look like, how it might trade with the EU in future, and also operate alone in a global market. And, every eligible voter will need to be clearly informed of the pros and cons of EU membership in order to make a well-considered decision. Berrisford-Smith believes the vote will be very close, and Britain will stay in, but the issue will remain on the nation‘s agenda.
… and the challenges we may face 15 years on
Norman Armstrong set thoughts further ahead to 2028 with Grant Thornton‘s Future Perspectives long view of our society and economy. Back in 2013, the firm embarked on a project to take a view on the issues and trends that will shape UK businesses and their place in the world and, therefore, Grant Thornton‘s business over the long term.
“We want to continue to be a leading organisation in our sector. We‘re ambitious and want to stay ahead of the curve, anticipating impactful changes. We want to be an Apple not a Kodak. Foresight is what we are looking for.“
The study had covered 14 themes including lifestyles, multiculturalism, big data, energy, natural resources, and where people might live – the latter highlighted by a United Nation‘s 2013 global population prediction of nearly 40% growth to 9.6 billion during the 40 years up to 2050.
Armstrong added intrigue by revealing that Grant Thornton had overlaid its research findings on four suggested alternative scenarios that might reflect possible future change – interestingly named The Kickstarter Capitalist, The Minerals Magnate, The Disney Director, and The Extractive Entrepreneur – which produced some fascinating insights, if not alarmingly different views of the future world.
Could 2028 herald the Big Brother world of Orwell‘s 1984? Will demand for global raw resources outstrip supply? Will future wealth be created from waste, green technologies or life sciences? Will new global trading blocs develop? Will mobile technology make work an activity not a place, and spark creative serial entrepreneurism? Armstrong posed such questions to the audience and invited their views (firstname.lastname@example.org).