How the North East England Chamber of Commerce is in a unique position to support the region’s business community in these unprecedented times

The work of the North East England Chamber of Commerce is very much member-led, championing businesses of all sizes from the length and breadth of the region, including Nissan, Greggs, Visualsoft, PD Ports and Gateshead College.

Every year, after consultations and vigorous debates, the membership sets a clear list of priorities for the Chamber team to focus its activities.

Stronger North East is an ambitious ‘to-do’ list for the coming year and has five key areas – with the aim of creating dynamic places, attracting investment and creating jobs.

This work will strive to make the North East more influential – to get the region’s voice heard on the national stage – more connected – to ensure there’s first-class digital and transport connectivity – and more competitive – with a clear focus on boosting the economy through supply chains.

The importance of international trade is also at the heart of Stronger North East, with support for businesses looking for global opportunities for growth, while the final area is focused on creating a dynamic region with vibrant centres and innovative companies.

Jonathan Walker, director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, (pictured) says: “The pandemic has given our members severe challenges but we are here to support them and have campaigned successfully for measures to get Government help.

“What has become clear in our conversations with businesses is that any recovery in our region must be built on several principles. We must leverage the renewed sense of community that we have seen during this crisis and never lose sight of the importance of fairness, both between and within regions. Our recovery must address long-term goals such as sustainability and ensure that businesses are able to make the most of every opportunity available to them.

“These principles will be the benchmark for all our work and also be the measurement by which we judge the Government’s response to our campaigns. We cannot rely solely on others to build this recovery for us; we must do what we can for ourselves.

“There has been a great deal of talk of ‘levelling up’ regions such as ours. We have heard much of this political rhetoric before but now is the time for a serious national plan to close the economic gaps between regions.

“This will mean fundamental changes to both national policies and funding allocations across the board to meet the specific objective of reducing regional inequality.

“Alongside this, further devolution of decision making is essential to give greater local control over how that money is spent.”

The pandemic has generated intense debate on town centres and their future. Stronger North East’s recommendations on this issue include sustainable support for independent start-ups in town centres and repurposing key spaces in them to ensure they are effectively used to stimulate economic growth.

It also stresses the importance of Government and businesses working together closely to overcome current economic challenges.

Support for the culture, arts and hospitality sectors is also key. The Chamber’s view is that Government needs to recognise their important role in regeneration and improving the quality of life in the region.

‘Together we grow stronger’ is the Chamber’s watchword and it passionately advocates for its members who are also calling on Government to help unlock North East potential.

Kevin Bell, partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, says: “Improvements to the North East’s transport, digital and energy infrastructure is critical to enable the region to contribute to the UK’s economic recovery. Investment in infrastructure is essential as part of the levelling up agenda, in creating a green recovery and in maintaining our international links in a post-Brexit landscape.”

Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle International Airport, adds: “It has never been more important for the North East to have a powerful voice to ensure our region is globally connected and able to exploit very opportunity for growth. We have challenges ahead but a proud history of collaboration and endeavour that, with the right Government support, will generate economic success.”

Steph Edusei, chief executive at St Oswald’s Hospice, adds: “St Oswald’s Hospice is a community-led regional charity and we truly understand the strength, value and importance of working with, and for, our communities. To truly thrive and not just survive this pandemic and beyond, to help build a stronger and more resilient North East, we must continue to be adaptable, create alliances and support one another.”

Darren Hankey, principal at Hartlepool College of Further Education, adds: “We believe that world-class education is key to ensuring that all people, regardless of background, can reach their full potential. It will also help to ensure businesses in our region have access to a talented workforce with the skills they need to grow. In a very challenging time, renewed and sustained investment and focus on our education system, in all its forms, will lay the groundwork for a Stronger North East.”