Regional practice focus: Hertfordshire at the heart of the matter

Hertfordshire, located immediately to the north of Greater London, isn’t only
renowned for the world’s first garden city – Letchworth – and the first town,
Stevenage, developed under the New Town’s Act of 1946, but also for Berkhamsted
Castle where William the Conquerer accepted the final Saxon surrender.

The county has a lot going for it: a good rail system; easy accessibility to
London, the Midlands and the North; excellent private and state schools;
stunning countryside; and proximity to international airports.

It has also become well-known for housing many corporate headquarters,
including DSG, Tesco, Ocado, JD Wetherspoon, Comet, BAE Systems, as well as the
University of Hertfordshire, Ashridge Management College and Ashridge and
Berkhamsted golf clubs.

But with all this history, infrastructure and big business, is the county
dealing with the recession? Colin Howe, vice president of the UK200Group and
senior partner at Hillier Hopkins, with local offices in Hemel Hempstead and
Watford, argues it will take another 12 to 14 months before real improvements
filter through.

‘Property and construction are worst hit. Estate agents are doing marginally

This invariably impacts on the day-to-day running of an accountancy firm.
‘People are using the economy as an excuse to try and get fees cut. Everybody is
trying harder to gain new business. We are looking aggressively to pick up work
from the big firms,’ says Howe.

James Abbott, partner at Baker Watkin in Stevenage, also believes recovery is
a long way off. ‘Local firms are suffering from cash flow problems, and they are
taking longer to pay bills. It’s a good time, though, for independent
contractors, IT consultants and interim managers – and companies able to use
temporary labour rather than hiring permanent staff.’

With the British Bankers Association stating that lending is increasing to
SMEs, are local banks becoming more supportive? Mark Wilkins, partner at
Hardcastle Burton LLP in Royston, claims there is a slight change. ‘But any
business in need of cash from banks needs a good track record and prospects
worth backing,’ he says.

In Barnet, Andrew Hill, partner at Cartwrights agrees that banks are becoming
a little more supportive – although he says it’s a mixed picture locally.

‘Some clients are doing exceptionally well, especially service businesses.
Manufacturers are still struggling, but performing better than earlier this
year,’ he adds.

‘We’ve had a relatively – I stress relatively – good year so far,’ says
Charles Olly, partner at Price Bailey, whose offices include Bishops Stortford.
‘Business around East Anglia, (where Price Bailey has several offices) isn’t too
bad. Our clients are weathering the storms fairly robustly, although recovery is
taking time. We are seeing more demand for outsourcing, payroll and the whole
accounts function. There are price pressures and people are taking longer to

‘Like others, we are looking aggressively for new business, but big firms are
pretty defensive. They don’t like losing business any more than we do.’

Richard Dilley, partner at George Hay in Letchworth says: ‘most of our
clients are doing OK, except construction and motor accessory manufacturers. In
this part of the county, as elsewhere, housing has collapsed and builders are

Wilf Altman works with the
UK200 Group

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