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The huge contribution of Wales Top 300 firms on the Welsh economy

Last month, the South Wales Business School, in partnership with BusinessLive Wales, compiled a list of the largest Welsh businesses and examined their effect in terms of employment and sales.

As a result, the Wales Top 300 demonstrates the significant contribution of some of the largest businesses in Wales at a time when there are major economic challenges for all firms as we prepare to leave the European Union in 2020.

Of course, new entrepreneurial ventures are important to the dynamism and vitality of any economy but large firms continue to make a disproportionate impact on the Welsh economy.

For example, the latest data on business demography shows that whilst the total turnover for all Welsh businesses is £122bn, the total turnover of the Top 300 businesses is £38.4bn with three firms — Admiral, Iceland and GE Aircraft Engines —accounting for 22% of total turnover of the 300 firms.

Wales Top 300: turnover % contribution by region

This means that the Top 300 firms are responsible for 32% of the turnover of the entire Welsh business community. In addition, the number of jobs within the Top 300 firms is currently 132,500, which is equivalent to nine per cent of the Welsh business workforce.

In terms of growth, the overall turnover of the top 300 businesses has increased by 7.7% over their last 12 months of trading whereas employment has expanded by 10.9%.

Within the list itself, we find that the top ten firms – which account for 37% of total turnover and 30% of total employment – are also a third more productive in terms of turnover/employee than the rest of the Top 300 firms.

Given ten of Wales’ local authorities are based there, it is not surprising that 59% of the Top 300 businesses are to be found in the Cardiff Capital region, followed by North and Mid-Wales (27 per cent) and Swansea Bay (14%). Indeed, with only 41 of the Top 300 firms based within the Swansea Bay region, it will be a major challenge to ensure that they all play a full and active part in the city deal plans for the region although, unfortunately, there is little evidence of this to date.

The sectoral make-up of the Top 300 is fascinating with given that 38% are manufacturing firms although this should not be too surprising given that it remains a significant industry and has shown a remarkable renaissance since the recession of 2009 with Wales now being the most manufacturing intensive of any part of the UK.

And as the future of the UK economy post Brexit may be largely dependent on those industries that are able to grow their markets overseas and, in that respect, the manufacturing sector will be critical to Wales.

Given the presence of so many large manufacturing firms within Wales, it is critical that politicians do not miss a trick by ensuring that these businesses are fully supported to maximise their potential after we leave the European Union.

The new manufacturing strategy for Wales currently under consideration by the Welsh Government is definitely overdue for the sector given that the last one, launched in 2011, achieved very little. In addition, there has been much fanfare over how the UK’s Industrial Strategy would focus on improving the productivity of some of the key manufacturing sectors in Wales although more needs to be done to ensure existing firms actually benefit from this.

Financial and professional services had the largest increase in turnover (15%) and employment (19%) of any sector and given the increasing focus in Cardiff on this sector, it looks set to continue its progress over the next few years.

Therefore, the performance of Wales Top 300 shows us not only where the economy is doing well, but where there are also challenges ahead in the years to come.

Of course, it should be a key imperative for both Westminster and Cardiff Bay to ensure that greater numbers of entrepreneurial and innovative firms are encouraged to set-up and grow here in Wales but the Welsh and UK Governments must also ensure that this group of the 300 largest firms which have such an impact on the Welsh economy are given the environment in which they can thrive.

Certainly, with the new UK Government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson having made a pledge to focus efforts on growing those economies outside the more prosperous London and the South East of England, it is clear that those large companies operating across the whole spectrum of sectors in Wales must be given the right incentives to maximise their contribution to the Welsh economy going forward as we enter a new decade.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Happy New Year.

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