Actioning the change we need

January 5, 2022

The Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda has long been heralded by ministers as the silver bullet that will address disparities and put our region on a more even footing with others. But with a white paper on the subject delayed, John McCabe, chief executive at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, says the time has come for our area to take charge.

Words by John McCabe

Chief executive at the North East England Chamber of Commerce

Good work, good business and a good economy.

That’s what we all need to work towards in 2022. During the pandemic, our region’s companies achieved a huge amount in terms of being nimble, looking after clients, staff and often local communities. While there was much done, though, there is still more to do.

For the North East to both recover from the impact of COVID-19 restrictions and achieve its potential, we have to ensure employees are looked after. They have worked tirelessly to support businesses under difficult circumstances and, quite rightly, they now expect more from company owners, such as the right to work from home. Going forward, we must ensure there are secure, well-paid jobs, where people have access to lifelong learning. If we all work to create and develop this type of business structure, there will be strong links between us all and, as a result, a strong and supportive economy. We also have to create businesses that are not only sustainable but innovative and productive too.

‘Levelling-up’ in its very truest sense is at the heart of what we need and it’s my firm belief that opportunity must be the driving force of it all. Just 70 per cent of our region’s people are in work, compared to 75 per cent in the rest of the country. Our region also ranks the highest for child poverty and the lowest for life expectancy. And that is devastating.

So, while the Government dithers on a definition of ‘levelling-up’, we already know what it means and how to measure it. We know our region will only be ‘levelled-up’ when the gaps in employment, education, pay, wealth and health have been closed forever. I believe we can be leaders in this, and we don’t have to wait; not for strategies, not for handouts, not for Westminster to decide what’s best for us.

Here’s what we, at the Chamber, are doing already.

Our race commission is bringing forward practical support to help create a more diverse business community in this region. More staff diversity increases a company’s bottom line. We’re working with schools, colleges and universities to better connect them with employers and share careers resources and training opportunities. And we’ve launched a good work toolkit, sharing case studies and key resources to help businesses drive change, support their staff and respond to supply chain and procurement pressures. That means looking after our people and our businesses today, nurturing the talent of tomorrow, and working to lift that ceiling of opportunity for everyone.