September 3, 2020
There are very few organisations as well placed to speak about ‘building the future,’ the theme of this issue, than the North East England Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber is the largest independent business organisation in the region with close links to a wide range of companies and stakeholders, from innovative entrepreneurs to influential leaders at the heart of Westminster.
Led by chief executive James Ramsbotham, the Chamber works hard to help businesses build networks, exploit opportunities and expand their markets.
During the coronavirus crisis, the organisation worked even more closely with the North East business community to ensure the region received the support needed from Government. This campaigning, together with the British Chambers of Commerce, achieved notable successes such as ensuring many self-employed people were supported.
James explains: “For our region to recover from this pandemic we needed to be particularly proactive: our customary attitude to whatever life throws at us.
“As part of this work we have been in close discussions with our members about how we tackle our economic recovery effectively. These ideas are now shaping the direction of our work going forward.
“At the heart of our activities and services will be fairness, community, opportunity and sustainability.
“Government has to keep its promise to level up the country, building on this principle of fairness and recognising regional disparities, to increase investment and deliver inclusive growth across our region.
Levelling up has been a Government rally cry but the Chamber has seen nothing concrete to suggest it is a serious ambition.
“We, as a region, entered this pandemic with the highest unemployment figures, lowest life expectancy and highest number of children in low-income households,” James continues.
“Our economy and health are closely entwined; we need Government to give us the financial support to enable us to exploit our potential.”
The Chamber believes diversity is a crucial driver for the North East, as James explains.
“In the Chamber, we have long-championed women in business with our ‘Inspiring Females’ programme of events. This work around diversity is now being broadened to ensure we are also supportive of our BAME community.
“The consequences of this crisis and the resulting severe recession will not be felt evenly across the country. Experience teaches us that downturns are more pronounced in regions such as ours and fall disproportionately on those with the least capacity to withstand them.
“We are determined to support those members of our business world who need it, no matter their gender or race.
“Any Government economic recovery plan should also address longer term goals such as increased sustainability.”
Meanwhile, the green agenda is another important issue that the Chamber is focused on.
“Lessons learned from this crisis can help us adopt greener, more resilient ways of working while still achieving economic growth,” the chief executive says.
“The North East has many competitive advantages in this space. They range from our expertise in renewable energy and electric vehicles through to our abundant green space and natural resources. Government must think creatively and work with businesses to best harness these assets for sustainable growth.
James adds: “A Government recovery plan must ensure businesses can make the most of every opportunity that is available to them. As we have seen in previous downturns, no matter how difficult the situation, businesses will adapt.”
In addition to these ambitions in its Stronger North East campaign for the coming months, the Chamber has identified a number of specific short- term measures urgently needed for early recovery.
These include planning system improvements, better connectivity, investment for education and skills, particularly for young people, and town centre regeneration. It will also campaign to get local businesses easier access to the public sector supply chain opportunities and support for businesses to become coronavirus secure.
James adds: “We need Government to make sure schools and nurseries are at the heart of its economic strategy. People need to have certainty in their childcare provision to be able to go to work.
“Uncertainty around Brexit and the risk of a ‘no-deal’ outcome is another massive threat to our business community. Companies have prepared twice for previous deadlines, at tremendous expense. Many do not have the cashflow to do so again.
“Leaving the EU will mean an increase in red tape, which will be so challenging. We export more than any other UK region and our exporters must have a good deal if they are to flourish. Government progress on this is now critical.
“As a Chamber, we have been here for more than 200 years, passionate about helping our members through good times and bad.
“We are a relentless, and I hope, powerful advocate for our region and hold politicians to account when they make promises to the North East. We continue to work every day to help businesses connect, trade, learn and grow.”
During the current pandemic, the Chamber has organised more than 131 events virtually, attended by 4340 people. The content has varied from webinars with business leaders all over the globe on how their countries have tackled economic recovery, to opportunities to build networks with other companies and support to trade internationally.
James concludes: “We pride ourselves on being at the heart of the North East, independent and driven by the needs and priorities of our members. I believe our role in connecting and supporting regional businesses has never been more important.”
North East England Chamber of Commerce