2017: A Year of Opportunity

By David Patterson, Portland

As a New Year begins we like to reflect on what has passed and consider what lies ahead. With the vagaries of any typical year this is a hard enough task but with a shock EU referendum result and a victory in the presidential election for Donald Trump, 2016 was anything but typical. And, if you happened to be a celebrity, still being alive on January 1 2017 was achievement enough in a year that witnessed the demise of Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. 

After the shock result of June 23, and the subsequent resignations, Theresa May assumed office following a leadership campaign of only three weeks. Try as she might, May’s time in office will be dominated by Brexit. Although personally in favour of remaining in the European Union, May has committed her Government to carrying out the wishes of the Brexit voting public - though the effort required to extract Britain from the myriad of treaties and agreements that constitutes the EU will require all the Government’s energy. 

However, precisely what a post-Brexit UK will look like has been harder to determine. Details have not been forthcoming. May took steps early to demonstrate her resolve by setting up new departments specifically focused on fashioning a new position for Britain post-Brexit but did little to explain what that would look like. 2016 revealed the destination, but not the route.

Despite the all-consuming nature of Brexit, May is determined to make her mark on the UK by creating a country that “works for everyone”. She hopes to foster a more public-spirited approach to business and education and may well achieve this with the revival of an 'industrial strategy'. Through such a move, May will have the chance to improve productivity, create jobs, and boost growth through sector specific deals that could benefit the wider UK.

Away from the EU, the Government can better support industry by investing in infrastructure, digital connectivity, and 5G and fibre broadband networks. Coupled with the UK’s well established capital markets, there will be opportunities for ‘fintech’ and biotechnology industries to grow and develop. As for the increasingly divided political landscape, May’s plan to continue devolution of power from the centre to cities, offers hope. Increased local democracy may revitalise policy generation and could offer fresh perspective on the challenges ahead.

As we look ahead to 2017, Brexit seems likely to prove divisive if not harmful. The spread of nationalism and popular discontent at home and abroad make for a gloomy outlook. However, if nothing else, 2016 has ushered in an era of change. Those businesses and individuals brave enough to embrace it, may find themselves rewarded with opportunities.