As 2018 dawns, Business Argus asked local business leaders what they hoped to see happen this year...

James Crawford, CEO of Johnsey Estates Limited which owns and runs Mamhilad Park Estate, Pontypool

The big unknowns in 2018 will be the progress upon the UK’s departure from the EU and also whether there is political stability in Westminster. If there are no major uncertainties at the economic and political levels, then 2018 should be another year of solid progress for business.

The initiative from Welsh Government to reduce the tolls across the Severn Bridge, and to abolish in due course, will help connectivity with the South West of England and encourage economic growth. This is good news for the M4 corridor and south east Wales as the region will be accessible to those wanting to take advantage of the quality of life and many amenities. Property prices are cheaper generally but this is already causing hot spots such as Chepstow where values are rising quickly. This isn’t good news for everyone, of course, as it encourages new entrants at the expense of local buyers. It should, however, access development and encourage more house building especially on brown field sites. Against all this is the inescapable fact that more traffic will bring even greater congestion to the M4; for South Wales to thrive in the long term the connectivity needs to improve further. The case for the M4 relief road is compelling along with other investment in infrastructure, especially funds allocated via the City Deal to benefit Wales in general. If EU funding is to disappear post Brexit, then Welsh Government will need to make sure it receives its fair share from Westminster.

South Wales has many small businesses and shows great entrepreneurial flair. So long as the economy continues on track, we expect to see more businesses founded and more employment opportunities created. This will be good for the region and should create wealth and opportunity alike. It is the role of Welsh Government on the one hand, and the private sector working in partnership with local government and the education system on the other, to encourage and promote entrepreneurs.

As a business Johnsey Estates is looking forward to another year of progress centred around our flagship property asset at Mamhilad. We will be continuing to invest significantly in the business park as an employment hub and working hard to bring forward our urban village proposals.

Nigel Griffiths, chief operating officer at Certus, Newport

Cybercrime dominated the headlines in 2017. With it becoming more commonplace, and cybercriminals becoming increasingly sophisticated in their hacking methods, we can only assume attacks will continue in 2018. We also expect that businesses, both large and small, will wake up to the real threat of cyberattacks and begin to invest in robust security measures – such as firewalls and anti-malware - to protect their data.

In 2018, we expect the growing trend in the number of our clients opting to use advanced storage to protect their servers, such as data centres, to continue. This colocation not only provides increased security but also value for money.

Zep Bellavia, managing partner, Harding Evans Solicitors, Newport

It’s been another amazing year for us at Harding Evans, with a number of big client wins and victories for many of our existing clients. We’ve picked up a number of awards and have once again been recognised as a top tier law firm in both Legal 500 and Chambers - the two most comprehensive guides on recommended Law firms worldwide.

We’re extremely proud to have promoted a number of our staff this year, some of which have been with us for more than ten years – signalling our ongoing commitment to investment in our fantastic team.

On a personal note, after 25 years service at the firm, I was granted a two-month sabbatical earlier this summer - yet another example of how we put people at the forefront of our company.

Looking ahead to 2018, we know that artificial intelligence and technology will drive the sector in the coming years and we want to lead the way; we are currently working on a major project internally with our in-house development team, which will change the face of client interaction and service delivery as we know it.

Looking to 2018 for the business community, as the closest city in Wales to the Severn Bridge, we believe Newport will see major benefits from the price cut and eventual scrapping of the Severn tolls - with more people likely to live in the city and a number of businesses seeing the city as a viable base.

Harding Evans will continue to grow and challenge many other law firms both regionally and nationally in 2018 – despite further consolidation in the legal sector as a whole, we continue to expand and deliver full range of services to our clients and look forward to an exciting 2018 - our best year yet.

Gerald Davies, executive chairman, Kymin, Newport

Donald Trump will still be president of the USA. I even think the Republicans will retain control of Congress, as a result of the popularity of some of the taxation changes and the 'America First' programme.

Theresa May will still be Prime Minister. The Brexit talks will make their way to some sort of accommodation with our European 'friends'.

The markets dislike uncertainty so this comparative stability will improve investor sentiment. The further increases in interest rates, especially in the USA, will not make much difference to deposit holders, but will improve margins for the banking sector. Directly or indirectly, we all have a stake in the prosperity of the banks.

The world powers appear to be reaching a sort of truce, in that the USA, Russia and China are not threatening each other. In Europe, France is putting on a show but is not really a player on the world stage and Germany is still in limbo until they sort out a government. Of course, there is always North Korea, which is as unpredictable as ever.

In the UK there are changes in the mix. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is now running a side show, compared to the big decisions being taken by the UK. In Wales, there is a distinct shadow over the future of Carwyn Jones, so I would not be surprised in a change at the top of the Assembly.

More locally, the Newport Council is proposing a five per cent rise in council tax and cuts in services, so we’re being asked to pay more for less.

From a business viewpoint, the inequality of treatment of the retail sector regarding business rates, in comparison to on-line companies, is likely to be addressed. Is it too much to hope for governments, at least in the Western World, to insist that all companies pay tax in the countries where their profits are made?

From our point of view, as a financial services company, situated in Newport, we face 2018 with the confidence based on our 25 years of service to local businesses and individuals.