Confidence of UK and Irish SME leaders dips before Brexit

12 February 2019

A new report on the confidence of small and mid-sized enterprise leaders in Britain and Ireland has found that business leaders harbour serious reservations about the performance of the nations’ economies in the coming year. More than nine in 10 meanwhile suggested that economic conditions have worsened in the last 12 months.

Vistage is a CEO peer advisory organisation, aimed at working with CEOs and executive leaders who are looking to drive better decisions and better results for their companies. Vistage has over 22,000 members spread across 20 countries worldwide, who gather in confidential peer advisory groups to tackle their toughest challenges and biggest opportunities.

According to a new survey from the consultancy, which polled 279 UK and Irish leaders of small and medium sized organisations, the confidence of UK SME business leaders has dropped to its lowest point since June 2017, when the advisory firm started tracking data. This decrease in confidence is largely driven by a further significant decrease in expected economic conditions, as well as a decrease in confidence toward current economic conditions.

How do you expect the following to change in the coming year?

The effect of Brexit negotiations – which continue under a cloud of uncertainty in the face of cabinet and parliamentary negotiations – have more than made their mark on the business community. As a result, CFOs face a gruelling few months, as many attempt to formulate an antidote to Brexit uncertainty before the UK formally secedes from the EU. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, as a result of this uncertainty, CFO confidence languishes at a net score of -30%. This represents a low point since the UK’s EU membership referendum result in 2016, when confidence plummeted to -70%.

With the impending culmination of Brexit’s two-year negotiation window fast approaching, while a concrete agreement to prevent a hard Northern Irish border remains elusive, 93% of respondents to Vistage’s questionnaire believed current economic conditions have remained the same or worsened over the past 12 months. At the same time, a majority of 66% of business leaders expect conditions to further worsen in the coming year.

Roger Martin-Fagg an economist affiliated with Vistage, said of the results, “The global slowdown, combined with Brexit and the rise of European populism is a combination of risks which will continue to depress confidence and growth.”

Individually confident

British and Irish business leaders also noted a major shift in confidence relating to sales revenues. A continued high street crunch in the UK exemplifies this, with the floundering value of the pound and stagnating wages meaning consumers are less inclined to part with what little money they have left, when their essential spending is taken care of. This trend expands beyond the retail sector though, and has even impacted the consulting industry, with revenue growth slowing as clients brace for a period of economic turbulence. 42% of respondents told Vistage they expected this to either decrease or remain the same in the next 12 months.

Interestingly, however, while business leaders are gloomy about the prospects of the general economy, they do not seem to believe that the poor business environment will expand to their own firm. The majority of business leaders believe that their firm's profitability will increase in the coming year. At the same time, despite difficult conditions, many business leaders are forecasting in 2019 that their plans for talent acquisition and new hires will remain largely unchanged – as they remain confident in their abilities to weather any potential fall-out from ongoing uncertainty. 

Further commenting on this, Roger Martin-Fagg warned, “Our latest findings reflect the impact that political risk has on economic activity. I would not expect any improvement in confidence until the UK Government produces evidence that it has a clear set of deliverable objectives.”

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Project management industry adds £156 billion of value to UK economy

15 April 2019

Project management has grown into one of UK’s largest areas of business over the past decade, amid the increasing ‘projectification’ of work. With the gross value added to the UK economy by project management estimated to be £156 billion, this trend is likely to continue in the coming era.

Despite the huge success of project management in recent years, until now there has been relatively little data available on the size of project activity. As a result, there has been a great deal of debate on things like the number of people involved in the sector, the number of projects, and how it contributes to economic output. Due to this need for clarity, APM, the UK’s professional body for project management (the largest organisation of its kind in Europe, with 28,000 individual members) commissioned economists from PwC to shed light on the industry's economic impact.

The research concluded that the profession makes a more significant contribution to the UK economy than the financial services sector. 2.13 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) were employed in the UK project management sector, generating £156.5 billion of annual gross value added (GVA). In comparison, the financial services sector contributes £115 billion, and the construction industry adds £113 billion.

Gross value added to UK economy

Commenting on the discovery, Debbie Dore, Chief Executive of APM said, “Project management runs as a ‘golden thread’ through businesses, helping to develop new services, driving strategic change and sector-wide reform.”

Who is a ‘project manager’?

To reach these estimates, PwC’s researchers used detailed models to map out the value of project management activity. They ultimately defined relevant ‘projects’ as “temporary, non-routine endeavours or rolling programmes of change designed to produce a distinct product, service or end result… [with] a defined beginning and end, a specific scope, a ring-fenced budget, [and] an identified and potentially dedicated team with a project manager in charge.”

Building on this, they then went on to define what the act of project management actually is. The job consists of applying “processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience” so that clients can meet their objectives and bring about planned outputs or outcomes. The analysts added that this includes “initiating the project, planning, executing, controlling, quality assuring and closing the work of an identified and dedicated team according to a specified budget and timeframe.”

Importantly, it should be noted that the profession is not exclusive to only roles explicitly labelled as ‘project manager’, but to any role where specialist project management skills are used. This means that across sectors these roles can have very different titles, from the self-explanatory contract managers of procurement, or the campaign managers of advertising, to the likes of festival co-ordinators in the events sector, and many more. The roles in question also span all strategic levels of the profession, from strategic to tactical and operational positions.

Gross value added of project management profession

From a sector perspective, the financial and professional services, construction and healthcare industries make up almost two-thirds of the total project management GVA. At the same time, understandably, the UK Government has a huge project portfolio, which further drives the size of the GVA the sector contributes, thanks to megaprojects like HS2 and Crossrail.

Commenting on this to the report’s authors, Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation remarked, “Project delivery is at the heart of all Government activity, whether it’s building roads and rail, strengthening our armed forces, modernising IT or transforming the way government provides public services to citizens. Getting these projects right is essential if we are to ensure that we build a country that works for everyone.”

Throughout 2019, 26 major government projects were delivered, representing a fifth of the overall Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) of 133 projects. According to the IPA annual report 2017-18, these represented a whole life cost of £423 billion. In addition to this were a plethora of smaller scale projects, and those in early development.

Elsewhere, with the increasing digitalisation of the economy impacting entities of all shapes and sizes, IT and digital transformations tended to dominate the projects of the UK scene alongside new product development projects, with a respective 55% and 46% of organisations in the research sample having undertaken these types of project in the past year. At the same time, this varied across sectors, and unsurprisingly, in the construction and local government sectors, fixed capital projects were the main project type undertaken.


Looking to the future, 40% of business leaders expect project management will grow in the coming years due to the increased use of projects – or the ‘projectification’ of the UK. In a trend that has been witnessed elsewhere, organisations have to rapidly and continuously change in the digital age of business, driving the need for project management.

Outlook for project management services

An increased focus on value over cost – especially in the construction sector – and a forecast increase in the number of international projects are predicted to be key drivers of growth, according to the expert contributors. However, this will not happen in the absence of challenges; more than half of organisations expressed concern over the perceived impact of political uncertainty in the UK. Skills and capability shortages were also cited as a potential barrier by a third of organisations.

With regard to budgets, meanwhile, a third of those surveyed by PwC said they expect the size of project budgets will increase in the coming three years, while 40% anticipate a growth in project size. As the profession continues to mature, and as the recognition of the importance of good project management grows, it is expected that a greater proportion of project work will gain more distinct attribution to the profession itself, giving more recognition and appreciation to the role of the project manager.

Speaking on the findings of the study, Sandie Grimshaw, a Partner at PwC, concluded, “The project management profession is relatively new compared to some other professions, such as lawyers, teachers and doctors. However, as project management is a core competence vital to organisations in the UK, the profession is critical and will continue to grow in stature.”