news opinion

Has there ever been more uncertainty at the beginning of a year than we face now at the start of 2019?

Brexit has meant that businesses – from Bournemouth to Banbury and beyond – have no clear understanding of how their own prospects and the wider economy will shape up this year.

Brexit doesn’t just affect companies that trade internationally. Any disruption is bad for all business, and uncertainty spooks the markets and makes lenders cautious.

At the time of going to press, politicians and businesses were planning for a no-deal exit, while at the same time hoping that pragmatism would win the day and we would have some kind of agreement to soften the eventual divorce.

Meanwhile, global trade wars have been a feature of 2018 and presumably will make the world a more uncertain place still in 2019. There has been talk of recession – partly because emerging markets are not such a strong bet as they used to be. That’s important because emerging markets account for 59% of the world’s output.

Here in the south we will hopefully escape the worst ravages of any downturn. In ‘cities’ like Reading we can look ahead with some confidence, as the regional economy never gets battered to the extent of other parts of the UK.

The south’s knowledge base, its attractiveness for inward investment, and its infrastructure of airports and ports will all help mitigate some of the pressures coming down the track.

Demand tends to outstrip supply in the south – whether for property or people. This helps keep values up of course.

2019 will be the year of Brexit – but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the year of business breakdown.

David Murray Publisher


Fast-tracking the region Thames Valley

The High Wycombe-based housebuilder and developer Ridgepoint is currently creating new honours for its office walls while helping to meet the country’s housing needs. The company, which creates residential and mixed-use developments across London and the South East, has topped the region’s league table when it comes to chalking up fast-growing sales.

Ridgepoint increased sales to £34.6 million last year, giving an average rise over the past three years of 124%. This gained 14th place in the latest Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 league table which ranks Britain’s private companies with the fastest growing sales.

Founded in 2006 by Nick McEntyre, the firm achieved its sales figures with a small staff of just 21. In 2018 it created 86 new homes; but upcoming schemes include 135 properties adjacent to the Grand Union Canal in Aylesbury.

Oxford Summer Courses, a residential tuition business started in 2010, gained 20th place in the table after turnover rose to £8.1m last year, giving an average of 103% over three years.

School friends and Oxford graduates Harry Hortyn and Rob Phipps starting out by giving a few lessons in Oriel College while Hortyn studied there. Now with a staff of 26, it operates out of 14 Oxford colleges and also runs courses in Cambridge, London, Stanford and Bangalore.

Some 90% of its revenue is generated from overseas students. In future it hopes to boost revenue by introducing coding courses and extending its international reach.

Helping holidaymakers to pick hotels with halal-friendly amenities has helped Reading- based to 26th in the table. The firm’s website allows customers to select filters including no-alcohol policies, availability of women-only beaches and halal food options.

University friends Enver Cebi and Elnur Seyidli founded the business in 2009, initially funded by Seyidli’s savings. It won £600,000 of angel

investment in 2016, which helped it move to a larger headquarters and develop its search platform. Turnover reached £10.1m last year (average sales rise 90%), of which 80% was generated from customers overseas. It is now translating its website to access the Malaysian and Indonesian markets.

Another Reading-based company, Travel Up, gained 37th place with turnover of £77m last year, giving an average rise of 75%. Founder Ali Shah spoke no English and had no experience of the UK travel market when he started the firm in 2004. Yet he maintains that the early days of running his agency were easier than his work as a business travel agent in his native Pakistan, where he had no access to computers.

The group now offers flight-only and package holiday deals online, through brands including Holiday Genie and Bravo Travel, and via its UK call centre. It now boasts customers in America, Ireland and Australia.

Two more companies based in the Thames Valley just squeezed into the top 100 table, the audio-visual systems installer Cinos at Camberley making 93rd position with sales of £10.3m last year (average rise 47%). ITV and Vodafone are among the clients of this firm, which was enlisted to design the system for British Airways’ crisis management centre as well as for multiple command-and-control rooms globally.

In 2007, engineers Karl Deady and Steve Franklin founded the firm recently named as an approved supplier for the Government’s electronic security, control room and audiovisual system framework, opening up the possibility of multi-million-pound deals to install systems for the NHS, police, fire service and other public sector customers.

The Thai restaurant chain Giggling Squid, based at Guildford, gained 99th place with sales of £23.7m for an average of 45%. Its first restaurant was in the basement of a former fisherman’s cottage in Hove, which husband-and-wife team Andy and Pranee Laurillard bought in 2009. The chain now has 30 eateries across southern England and the Midlands.


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