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FirstGroup chief executive Matthew Gregory urges Hertfordshire businesses to embrace sustainable growth challenge in a "watershed moment" created by Covid-19 pandemic



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Hertfordshire businesses are being urged to look into the future and embrace the challenge of growing sustainably in a "watershed moment".

FirstGroup chief executive Matthew Gregory was one of the panellists when business advisors Grant Thornton held a discussion between 65 of the county's top business leaders.

He believes it is imperative that firms think beyond the coronavirus crisis and take advantage of the opportunities for productive change the pandemic has created.

"There is a huge amount going on in the market at the moment. Whilst it is still a difficult time for many, it is also a challenging and interesting time where opportunities can be sought out," said Gregory.

"I really see this as being another watershed moment similar to previous economic crises, such as in 2008, where some of today's most successful businesses were created.

"It's a time for business owners to look forward five or 10 years and think about how they are going to grow, change and develop their businesses in a sustainable way.

FirstGroup chief executive Matthew Gregory (43279965)
FirstGroup chief executive Matthew Gregory (43279965)

"I think many people will be really up for the challenge."

Grant Thornton's Hertfordshire Limited Panel and Audience Discussion included a poll which revealed 82% of the county's business leaders were feeling more positive about the future now compared to April, with only 8% feeling less confident.

Despite the many ongoing business critical issues, 93% of business leaders said sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) remain high on their agenda. Out of those, 60% said it was important while a third said it is a top priority.

Almost a third of employers said the pressure of multiple high-impact business critical issues which they have no control over, such as Brexit, the recession and lockdown restrictions, keeps them awake at night.

But there was plenty of optimism from the respondents with 79% of business leaders revealing their attitude to investing over the next six months is to be brave and take calculated risks.

"It is really encouraging to hear that business leaders are feeling more positive about the future than they were six months ago," said Grant Thornton's tax director Yvonne Chappell.

"The fact that sustainability and CSR are high up on the agenda again after such a turbulent year is testament to the confidence many business leaders are feeling as they reset and look to adapt business models to embrace the changes that the last year has accelerated.

"It is also encouraging to hear of the appetite for investment, which is hopefully good news for firms with sustainable business models who could do with a helping hand to recover from the strains of recent events and plan for growth."

When asked how the Government could help businesses more in this region over the next couple of years, half of those taking part in the poll said they would like to see the low tax regime maintained while 36% said investment in regional infrastructure was needed.

And 7% of respondents claimed additional support in funding would be helpful while the same amount said additional grant support through the winter would be most beneficial.



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