August 7, 2020 @ 8:31 by Richard Dawson
The Government’s support for the North East business community has been criticised at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the North East England Chamber of Commerce.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the Chamber, laid bare the frustration of members who have been hugely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and expressed disappointment with the Government’s performance in recent months.
Speaking yesterday (August 6), he said: “Government’s actions have been woeful on a number of levels. One of my main concerns has been communication. This has been exceedingly poor, both in the manner of the message delivery and the appalling lack of clarity.
“The level of support available has also fallen short of levels needed. The Chancellor spent £30Bn in his Summer Statement but achieved very little. The support measures should have been extended to the so-called “excluded” such as the self-employed operating as limited companies and those who took up new jobs in February/March but were not eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“Our country’s ‘track and trace’ process is simply not fit for purpose. We have heard from Chamber colleagues around the world where their Governments have devised systems which create real confidence so that people feel comfortable to go about their business. This system right is crucial to us getting the economy back on track.
“We also 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. We export more than any other UK region and our exporters must have a good deal if they are to flourish.
“Levelling up has been a Government rally cry but we have 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. 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 AGM also focussed on four key themes the membership organisation will base its campaigns around moving forward – community, fairness, sustainability and opportunity.
Chamber president Lesley Moody thanked the North East business community for all of their support during the pandemic.
She said: “From the moment this crisis hit, we have worked with our members to maintain the connectivity, knowledge and collective influence that bind our fantastic community of businesses.
“As President, I could not be prouder of the efforts made by members and the Chamber team and of the resilience, innovation and ingenuity they’ve exhibited over recent months.
“We are more than a network; we are a community. When times get tough communities pull together.”