Sue Rees in conversation with professor Dylan Jones-Evans OBE
I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with Professor Dylan Jones-Evans OBE about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on startups and small businesses in Wales.
First of all, for those who don’t know me, I better declare my interest here as a proud Welshwoman! Despite being a small country, Wales has been gaining a reputation as a great place to start a new business. Indeed my home town of Swansea has been named as one of the UK’s most startup-friendly areas by The Fast Growth 50; an organisation Jones-Evans founded to recognise and celebrate Welsh entrepreneurial success.
A real champion of business innovation, Dylan Jones-Evans holds the post of Assistant Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales as well as having many other business interests. He founded the Welsh Enterprise Institute at the University of Glamorgan and was appointed to the chair of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management there at the age of just 29.
In a glowing academic career, he went on to hold chairs at NEWI in Wrexham and the University of Wales Bangor and NEWI in Wrexham. Other posts he has held include Director of the National Entrepreneurship Observatory at Cardiff University, Director of Enterprise and Innovation at the University of Wales, and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Bristol Business School.
He has published over 100 articles, refereed journals, and edited books. Along with Professor Sara Carter, he is the author of the best-selling textbook “Enterprise and Small Business”. In other words, he knows his stuff!
Who better, then, to give me some insights as to how he thinks COVID-19 will impact small businesses in Wales and what advice would he give entrepreneurs and businesspeople in general about moving ahead?
The first thing that was clear to me from our discussion was how positive Dylan is about the business landscape in Wales. He doesn’t downplay the hit that business has taken, though. The economy shrank by 20% between April and June after all, and 2.69 million people have been claiming income support and vacancies in almost every sector are well below pre-pandemic levels. But he’s keen to point out that these headlines – grim as they are – could paint an overly negative picture.
“If we look in more detail at the economic data, it seems that most of the declines occurred in April when the UK went into its total lockdown,” he told me.
“The economic data for both May, June and July showed an increase of 1.6%, 8.7% and 6.6% respectively with a marked recovery across services, manufacturing and construction. And there may be better news for a V-shaped recovery with the National Institute for Economic and Social Research predicting a growth of 15% in the third quarter as the reopening of the tourism and hospitality sectors further boost the economy.”
He went on to point out that overseas quarantine measures and the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme has already stimulated a summer “staycation” boom that has seen spending that may traditionally have happened abroad staying here in the UK.
“Look, any economic revival needs momentum and, more importantly, business and consumer confidence,” he reminded me. Dylan pointed out that between 2015 and 2019, there had been a 21% increase in the number of new businesses in Wales the second best performance in the UK, and this is an excellent platform on which to rebuild.
“Even at the height of the pandemic control measures, 80% of businesses stayed open in some way. Many businesses adapted to their ‘new normal’ quickly, and made significant changes to their working patterns.”
Dylan tells me that this flexibility and change to working practices will need to continue, but business owners will need to make other changes, too.
“There was a lot of talk about communities coming together to fight COVID,” he says. “I think businesses need to create entrepreneurial communities to support each other.” He advocates ideas and best-practice sharing as a way for the business community to speed up its ‘bounce-back’ rate.
In closing, Dylan reinforces his optimism about business. “There is lots of optimism and confidence out there among entrepreneurs and small businesses, and recent data shows that consumers are also showing their confidence with their wallets. The challenge for business now is to come up with new and different ways of doing things, and I think they will rise to this. We need to trust businesses to do the right thing, and make sure it’s easy for them to make the changes they need to regain some of that fantastic momentum they were showing last year.”
What are your thoughts?????