Fifty entrepreneurs heard an economic analysis of the next five years and the thoughts of a remarkable businessman at a private function at the Oakley Hall Hotel near Basingstoke

Guests at the first private dinner for Southern Entrepreneurs, sponsored by EY and UBS, and organised by The Business Magazine, heard from Bill O’Neill, head of the UK investment office for UBS, and Will King, founder of King of Shaves.

O’Neill gave a post-election look at the UK economy, considering hurdles the next five years might present.

Despite the Conservative’s 12-strong majority, he expected changes, pointing to the 21 by-elections during the last Parliament with five seats lost to the last Government.

Fiscal policy would be key but with a planned 30% cut in spending, he told guests: “There’s a lot of speculation about how plausible this is.” He saw no immediate interest rate rises and expected the UK would remain friendly to investment markets.

A single government (rather than coalition) offers clarity but less certainty surrounds the issue of EU membership. The referendum,
he believed, might be next autumn – ahead of elections in France and Germany in 2017. He believed Britain would vote
to stay in.

Currency markets had yet to respond to EU uncertainty but he warned volatility could emerge. However, should Britain come out, much depended on what kind of relationship existed after exit, notably if the country remained part of the European Economic Area.

But he was upbeat about the economy, highlighting low mortgage rates, low oil prices,

recovering exports and fiscal tightening. Now was the time, he said, to invest in ‘people, skills and kit’.

“We are still in a very strong position internationally – 2.5% growth may not look that great compared to the boom times but it is compared to the rest of the world.”

Will King founded King of Shaves after developing an oil which prevented rashes, something he suffered from himself. He took on brands such as Gillette and Palmolive but his products were different and his prices low.

The concept of change was a central theme. As he put it: “Embrace change as a constant. Then you will never be afraid of change.”

He launched in the early 1990s after losing his jobin advertising sales. Had he been starting now he believes he could have moved quicker.

He said: “It’s never been easier to start a business than it is today. What you can do in four hours used to take weeks and months.“

But he warned: “If it’s easy for you then it’s easy for everybody else. Competition is stronger than it was 20 years ago.”

He provided a fragrance for Ted Baker and has long been in major retailers, but he has now stepped back from the business. The company continues thanks to finding the right people to run it, highlighting his CEO, Andy Hill.

He added: “I’m a great believer in ‘delegreation’ – delegating to great people.”

A prize draw, for the use of a Bentley Continental for a day, courtesy of Bentley Berkshire, and dinner, bed and breakfast, courtesy of Oakley Hall, was won by Karen Waldron, founder of The Barber Shop Group. The draw raised a total of £440 for the supported charity, Brain Tumour Research.