Mark Lane meets North East England Chamber of Commerce South Tyneside committee chairman Alan Metcalfe and uncovers his positive outlook for the close-knit borough

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Alan Metcalfe, commercial director with recruitment firm Zenith People, has now spent almost three years as chairman of the North East England Chamber of Commerce South Tyneside committee. It’s a good stretch, particularly as, by his own admission, he was reluctant to take up the position in the first instance. He has grown into the role steadily, welcoming of the lessons and experience it has provided.

“I have to say I thoroughly enjoy it, the role has educated me on different sectors and I have met some wonderful businesses and people,” he says. “The businesses in South Tyneside truly support the Chamber and are happy to air their views, which is why I think we run a successful committee.”

He adds: “We want to make a small difference in the business community, we need to be good listeners, everyone has a different challenge depending upon sector and size and we need to represent the business community as fairly and equitably as possible and I think we are achieving that to a large extent.”

Alan draws on a rich and varied career which dovetails well with his Chamber role. Originally a time served engineer for Siemens Power Generation, he worked in technical sales before joining the recruitment industry 23 years ago, progressing to his current position at Zenith People. His main role there is strategic business growth and full responsibility for the finances and expenditure of the business.

He says: “We are a full end-to-end recruitment service and training provider and we differentiate ourselves in that we are fully aware of the challenges in attracting new, and retaining existing staff and therefore work in partnership solving the challenges that all employers across all sectors are currently experiencing. There are over 30 of us in the business now and we have always been based in South Tyneside and are very proud of the fact.”

Elaborating on the special qualities of South Tyneside as area, which he describes as a “small, close-knit borough”, he says: “I believe what makes South Tyneside so welcoming is the people. Whether it is the business community or the public in general we always welcome visitors. Additionally, we have some of the most fantastic beaches and sights close by.”

All of this said, Alan accepts that South Tyneside has its own challenges and he suggests these include health and an ageing population, unemployment and, of course, Brexit. He remains optimistic though: “If we continue to do what we are doing and have more investment to attract new businesses and new homeowners then we can overcome these challenges.”

The key for South Tyneside – indeed, the North East – is the ability to adapt and diversify. Can the area step up to the mark here? Answering, Alan says: “I believe this is an enormous challenge for our area, without doubt there have been huge strides to adapt to an ever-changing borough, but this can be difficult.

“The high street in South Shields needs to be looked at and we do need to diversify if we look at the retail sector
and it is important that this thrives but we can’t have the same old as we have done in the past. The good thing is that those who can make a difference are aware of the challenge and are trying to do something about it.”

Success will depend on cooperation between the public and private sectors, as well as organisations such as the Chamber. On this front, Alan suggests he has “always found South Tyneside Council to be proactive in their approach”.

He adds: “Don’t get me wrong, there is an awful lot that could be done better and personally I find the public sector slow in their approach at times; we have had our disagreements. However, we have to recognise that they have had significant cuts in budgets, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

“But I truly believe that if the council, the Chamber, the Advanced Manufacturing Forum and the public all work together then great things can be achieved. Undoubtedly collaboration is a huge factor in this and a willingness to ‘sort it out’ despite differences. It is also important that the supply chain in South Tyneside is maintained and increased.”

“I’m a proud Teessider, from the ‘Mighty’ Redcar. The majority of my work is in the local area with some in the wider North East region.”