Half of business leaders see taking on new staff as key ambition in next 20 years - Bank of Scotland report

Almost half of business leaders see taking on new staff as their key ambition in the medium-term, according to a new survey of hundreds of firms.

The research, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bank of Scotland Business Barometer, examined the major challenges and opportunities faced in the last two decades and anticipated challenges up to 2040 and beyond.

Despite a clear drive towards growth, a net balance of 83 per cent of firms anticipate the next 20 years will be more challenging than the past two decades, which included the financial crisis and resulting credit crunch, recession, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey of 600 businesses across the UK found that 47 per cent cited taking on additional staff as the main ambition for the years ahead. Companies also highlighted developing new products and services (36 per cent) and increasing online sales (30 per cent) as major ambitions and priorities.

Paul Gordon, managing director for SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) and mid corporates, at Bank of Scotland parent Lloyds’ commercial banking arm. Picture: Teri Pengilley

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Businesses expect online purchasing (20 per cent) and demand for instant products and services (18 per cent) to be the biggest changes in consumer behaviour in the next 20 years, forcing them to be more creative and innovative in order to adapt to deliver quickly, the bank noted.

These predictions mirror the factors which businesses cited as having had the biggest impact on their operations in the past 20 years - chiefly greater access to information (24 per cent) and more online purchasing (22 per cent) changing customer behaviour.

However, firms are optimistic about further changes to consumer behaviour, with 38 per cent reporting that advances in technology have had the biggest positive impact on their business in the past two decades.

Paul Gordon, managing director for SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) and mid corporates, at Bank of Scotland parent Lloyds’ commercial banking arm, said: “The Business Barometer has provided unique insights into the views of British businesses for 20 years. In that time, we have seen a seismic shift in the economic context in the UK, as well as the extraordinary ability of business leaders to adapt and evolve to meet changing market needs.

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“Perhaps it is not unsurprising that, having faced a quite unprecedented period of late and enormous change over the last 20 years, the majority of business leaders feel the next 20 years will be more challenging.

“To help them through this, businesses are looking for support on skills, finance, trade and taxation to navigate in this environment.

“One thing that is clear is that our businesses and business leaders are incredibly resourceful and resilient and are adept at facing into constant change,” he added.

“They tell us they are gearing up for growth and expect to increase headcount, enhancing their service offering or utilising new technologies.”

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The Barometer’s 20th anniversary survey was conducted with firms between December 1 and December 9, 2021.

Some of the challenges that businesses see themselves facing can be linked back to the pandemic, the bank noted, including rising costs (23 per cent) and the ability to recruit staff (11 per cent).

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