How would you sum up 2021 for businesses in Milton Keynes?
There is no doubt that 2021 has been an incredibly tough year for businesses across the city, as there has been lots of uncertainty caused by the pandemic. This uncertainty has been especially felt by our local independents, who have been forced to make difficult decisions to keep businesses afloat. Throughout the past year, Milton Keynes Council has sought to support as many businesses as possible, while understanding that different sectors have been impacted in different ways. Despite the difficulties that businesses have faced, the city’s economic recovery has overall been good. In 2021, we found out that Milton Keynes is now one of the fastest growing economies in the UK.
What were the major issues businesses faced and will they be the same issues in 2022?
Uncertainty was a major issue that businesses faced last year, and unfortunately it seems this will carry through to 2022. However, we are in a far better situation than the start of 2021; the vaccination rollout continues to be a success, and we seem to understand the virus more.
In 2021, there were recruitment and retention issues and I predict this will also be a problem in 2022. Businesses have been impacted by staff shortages, illness, skill shortages and much more. It may take a while for these issues to settle.
Looking at a wider picture, inflation has been and will continue to be a worry. The cost of living has skyrocketed, and in December inflation reached a 10-year high. This could impact businesses as people may spend less, resulting in lower sales for businesses. It means that it’s hard to plan for the future, as we really don’t know what the situation could be like.
Lastly, a major issue throughout 2021 was fatigue. Many businesses have been continuing to run on ‘empty’, and there will come a time when perpetual setbacks become unsustainable.
The pandemic has taken its toll and looks likely to continue to be a factor for some time, how well has Milton Keynes coped?
This is a difficult question as the pandemic’s impact has completely varied according to the different sectors. Overall, Milton Keynes has coped well as we have lots of people in jobs that are well suited to change. These include the creative and media industries, accountancy and consultancy, to name but a few.
Saying this, it’s also important to recognise how the shift in retail habits have impacted our high streets and shopping centres. The city centre was hit by the lack of visitors, and the retail and hospitality industry saw a massive drop – just like it did up and down the country.
Is Milton Keynes in a strong position to move forward in 2022?
Yes, as I believe that the ‘MK offer’ will remain strong throughout 2022. Not many places have replaced the now-shut House of Fraser and Debenham stores with powerful businesses such as Harrods and Next Home. We are also experiencing continued multi-million-pound investment, as seen in the Santander, MK Gateway and Wolverton
However, we need to remain open minded, flexible, and nimble in understanding how trends might pan out and be adaptable to ensure continued success, and make sure that we don’t take any of it for granted.
What support will people in general and businesses need in 2022?
It’s difficult to know at the moment, as everything is still very much up in the air. What we do know is that business and economic output is often built on confidence, so people and businesses must know that there will be a pathway out of the crisis. They also need to know that out of all places, Milton Keynes is in a strong position to take advantage of more stable times.
Are you optimistic about the coming year for Milton Keynes?
I’m always optimistic, as Milton Keynes is a very resilient and innovative place. A new report into the UK economy revealed that productivity in MK is growing faster than almost every other place in the country. It also revealed that we are in the top five
for employment growth. These are very promising numbers, and I’m sure that we will continue to be an enterprise hotspot in the years
What is your wish for Milton Keynes as we move into a new year?
My wish is that everyone will be that bit calmer, and act with more civility to each other. The past two years have been tough, so it’s important that we work as one united city to ensure that the next year is prosperous for all.
Cllr Pete Marland
Milton Keynes Council
Find out more at www.milton-keynes.gov.uk