Mark Lane meets David Langley, North East England Chamber of Commerce chief operating officer, and finds out about the financial structure of the organisation and its commitment to providing the best possible value for money for its members

David Langley
Chief operating officer

While the North East England Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit organisation, it is run very much along commercial enterprise lines – indeed, it has to be.

The Chamber’s members are always top priority but sometimes there are opportunities to bid for contracts which also support North East businesses.

In these situations, the Chamber is competing with other organisations and the tendering process can be highly competitive and onerous. Being able to demonstrate sound business credentials as well as a robust financial footing are absolute musts for the Chamber.

Integral to ensuring it succeeds on this front is chief operating officer, David Langley. He suggests that in many ways, the Chamber operates like a large company. “As a mutual owned by our members the way we approach our governance and run the business is more typical of a much larger organisation which is a great experience for me,” David says.

David has a financial background. After a degree in economics, he trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG
in Newcastle, working with companies all around the North East, many of them members of the Chamber. He has also worked in financial management roles in other businesses in the leisure and professional services sectors, before joining the Chamber in 2014.

“I was attracted to work at an organisation with such a great reputation in the North East, and by getting to work with and get to know so many new people in the region’s business community,” he says.

“Also I liked the idea of working for an organisation with a real mission and purpose to support the region.”

So how does the Chamber operate financially, and what are its key revenue sources? David replies: “The three main funding streams for the Chamber are membership subscriptions, fees for processing export documentation, and the contracts which we run supporting international trade in the North East on behalf of the Department for International Trade, and the European Regional Development Fund.”

Anybody assuming that funding falls into the Chamber’s lap are greatly mistaken. The Chamber operates in a challenging market, often competing with private sector rivals to win contracts, as well as servicing members in a way that ensures they get value for money for their subscriptions.

Offering examples and reflecting on the Brexit situation, David says: “Some of the international trade contracts the Chamber runs are likely to go out to tender later this year; they are a significant component of our business, and we are already planning how we will bid for these again.

“Brexit could impact the Chamber in several different ways, including big changes in our export documentation business, changes in ERDF-funded projects, and indirectly through the impact on our members.

“Fortunately, as an organisation we are as close as anyone can be to these issues, and can adapt our business quickly as changes become clear.”

As indicated, finance is a key part of David’s role. He suggests his work involves, “making sure that the Chamber’s financial performance is strong enough to keep the organisation on a sound footing, and that we can keep investing in the business on behalf of our members”.

He adds: “I have to make sure all the decisions we take as a business are well thought through financially, and that we report on our finances regularly to the board and annually to our members in the annual report and at the Chamber AGM.”

David points to a number of highlights when asked to name his biggest achievements in his role so far. His most significant, he suggests, is “building a fantastic team around me, who all do such a brilliant job it makes my job so much easier”.

He was also involved in restructuring the Chamber and managing the sale of its training business in 2016, and delivering solid financial results for the following years which have allowed it to invest and bring the assets of the organisation up to date.

I close by asking him how he would like to think the Chamber is perceived: “I’d like to think we are seen as a high quality and professional organisation, with great ethics and values, which backs its members and the North East all the way.

“I’d also like to think that people see the Chamber as a modern and relevant organisation, with a great culture, and a long and distinguished history, which dates back as far as 1815.”