Simon Wake, recently elected chairman of the Tees Valley Committee of the Chamber, sees a bright future for the sub-region and its businesses despite his serious concerns about the potential impact of leaving the EU. Mark Lane reports
These are interesting and – let’s be honest – slightly worrying times on Teesside. A look through some of the recent business news items in the region suggests the Tees Valley has some major decisions to make in the coming months.
Among them are the future of the area’s only airport, Durham Tees Valley, along with a whole host of other challenges.
However, they have been somewhat overshadowed in recent months by a larger, rather more urgent concern: Brexit.
It is on this subject which I begin my interview with Simon Wake, a partner with The Endeavour Partnership LLP and also recently-elected chairman of the Tees Valley Committee of the North East England Chamber of Commerce.
He is refreshingly candid on Brexit. Asked if it is a threat or an opportunity, he replies: “A threat, I’m afraid. We are already aware of investment being held up or cancelled, particularly in foreign owned companies who are very nervous about Brexit, and if there is a no deal Brexit, that will be considerably worse. There may be opportunities for some exporters, and the Chamber is keen to assist those wishing to take advantage, but there will be a number of difficulties in achieving that.”
Simon, a well-known face in Teesside business circles, qualified as a solicitor in 1988 at a Middlesbrough practice, joining the precursor to what would ultimately become Eversheds in 1991.
“When that firm closed its Teesside office, I joined the then new firm of The Endeavour Partnership LLP as a partner, where I continue to practice,” he says. He is currently the firm’s head of commercial property, specialising in commercial development and healthcare work.
Given that Endeavour is based in and almost entirely focused on the Tees Valley, with the vast majority of its SME client base in the sub-region, Simon appears a perfect fit for the local Chamber. He understands the area well, its challenges, threats and opportunities.
“I have enjoyed being a committee member and vice chair of the Tees Valley Committee over the last few years, and found the discussions and information stimulating,” he says.
“I hope that as chairman I can help to promote Tees Valley business and encourage the membership to use the services the Chamber offers.”
So what are the Chamber’s priorities, from a Tees Valley perspective, right now? Simon says: “Our priorities are to ensure that the exciting opportunities that have arisen as a result of the creation of the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) are properly realised for the benefit of businesses and people across the Tees Valley. As a Chamber, we try to be a critical friend to our politicians and get involved in a wide range of policy issues, all of which contribute to the success of the Tees Valley.
“The close relationship between business and the local authorities (and now TVCA) in the Tees Valley has enabled a more focused effort on the sub-region and a distinctive voice which is being heard well outside the region.”
Simon suggests digital, biotech and clean energy, as well as the continuing strength in the engineering and chemical sectors as being strengths for the Tees Valley, while skills shortages and Brexit are his big concerns.
As he is a commercial property lawyer, I was keen to get his views on the former SSI steel works. He says: “I hope the land available there can be quickly released and made available for investment, and if it is, I see it as a great opportunity. A huge area of vacant land with available port facilities must be a valuable asset for the area.”
Finally, to Durham Tees Valley Airport, whose future was given a lift recently when the TVCA agreed to acquire it from Peel Holdings Limited. On this front, Simon is cautiously optimistic, telling us: “I think it will take a lot of hard work to get it back to being a profitable operation, but I think it can be done.”