By Daniel Hunter

Economic confidence and business sentiment for the Thames Valley region has strengthened, according to the Q4 2012 BDO Thames Valley Business Barometer released today (Monday), with 30% of businesses stating economic confidence has improved compared to only 18% in Q3.

Overall, Q4 results were positive with pipelines and order books healthy. Over half of respondents (56%) stated that their pipeline and turnover is increasing and businesses are still investing for the future.

However in order for businesses in the Thames Valley to continue to grow the general consensus was that organisations need to be innovative in their thinking, nimble and fleet of foot.

Investment plans for the Thames Valley are broadly consistent with the previous quarter’s results, with an interesting but modest increase in those planning property related investments (11%). Investment in headcount, training and development and marketing continued in Q4 at a steady level.

Interestingly, the proportion of those who think that training for existing employees is critical (46%) has increased from earlier Barometers (up from 31% in Q3). More than half (56%) think that apprenticeships and work placement schemes are very important (versus 47% in Q3). 40% of respondents think that graduate and post graduate opportunities are key

When respondents considered the performance of their own businesses, Q4 figures demonstrate there continues to be a greater degree of caution with lower expectations of growth than seen in Q2 and Q3. Despite an increase in profitability within Thames Valley businesses, results show there is some downward movement in expectations for the first quarter in 2013.

Although finance for investments continues to be a problem for many, the consensus is that there is no issue for Thames Valley businesses with a strong and robust business plan.

Simon Brooker, Partner and Head of BDO in the Thames Valley, comments: “The emphasis on the need for robustness is a marked change we’ve seen building over the year, with a ‘flight to quality’ as lenders appear to have a much clearer aversion to risk.

Simon continues: “All of the indicators suggest that the economy will gradually get better but that there will certainly be more ups and downs along the way. This was very much reflected in the results of Q4’s report. However, with austerity measures predicted to continue until 2018, businesses must keep the pressure on and fight back. I am delighted to report that Thames Valley businesses appear to be doing exactly that.

The Q4 Barometer also includes in-depth profiles of Thames Valley businesses Infineum, KYOCERA Document Solutions, JCA Coatings, MeetingZone and Pink Elephant, who share perspectives on their own performance during the last three months, the key challenges they face and the prospects for the Thames Valley region.

Paula Elliott, Managing Director, C8 Consulting concludes: “Q4’s results really reflect the sentiment of the Thames Valley. Many organisations have radically changed the way they are working and this was reflected in some of the one-to-one profile interviews that we undertook. Organisations are also looking overseas for growth and we certainly found this to be the case with two of the companies that we profiled - Infineum and MeetingZone who are both looking to the Far East in terms of future investment plan.”

The Thames Valley Business Barometer report can now be downloaded here, via the BDO LLP website and also the C8 Consulting website, founders and the inspiration behind the Twenties Club. The next quarter’s survey goes live on 14 February until 28 March.

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