Over 180 delegates were treated to an incisive address by former cabinet minister, Michael Portillo, at Francis Clark's annual Finance in the South West Conference held at Exeter Racecourse on Wednesday 26th February.

The politician turned broadcaster spoke of the political and economic framework for SMEs and the challenges facing the nation in the future including comparatively poor education standards, lack of employment skills and an ageing population with insufficient savings/pensions.  He also addressed the possible fallout from the Scottish independence vote and how it could impact on the General Election of 2015.

However he added that the signs of recovery are very encouraging, saying: "This seminar demonstrated that SMEs now have extraordinary opportunities to finance their plans in a highly competitive and transparent marketplace, including crowd funding via online platforms."

Delegates also listened to Tim Jones, Head of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, who discussed the focus of Government funding for the region as well as hearing from a full programme of quality speakers addressing issues including grants, crowd sourcing, debt financing, growth capital peer-to-peer lending, private equity and business angels.

Francis Clark partner Lewis Banfield, who chaired the event said: "We are delighted with the huge turnout for this event, which demonstrates just how important understanding these finance-raising options are to businesses in the region.

"We are very grateful to Michael Portillo who delivered a very thought-provoking speech as well as a very amusing take on his political career."