Key politicians engage with region on vital issues
Sajid Javid and Liz Truss have visited the North East; a rallying call on the East Coast Mainline; reflections on poor employment statistics; and planning for Dubai 2020
As I write this article I’m preparing to attend the political party conferences and October 31 looms large in our business calendar. There is still so much that needs to be decided in order for us to know what will befall our country on Halloween. Rest assured, as a Chamber, we will do our best to deliver the support you so urgently need.
We have already made our case on immigration when we had the opportunity to welcome back Sajid Javid, Home Secretary. He visited our region four years ago to deliver the keynote speech at our 200th anniversary dinner. It was a result of that connection that he asked us to arrange a roundtable to meet our members to discuss key immigration issues.
The businesses and organisations present stressed the importance of rethinking the proposed post-Brexit salary threshold for skilled immigrant workers. Concern was raised that the proposed £30k threshold would preclude many North East university researchers, for example, as many of them work with senior academics moving to the UK, and would not be on that salary level.
I would never say politicians are like buses but the newly appointed International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, was in our region not long after the Home Secretary. She was in Tees Valley to put forward the Government’s freeport idea.
The free trade zone proposal is something we mooted back in 2016 after the referendum result, but we appreciated very quickly that businesses needed to stay in the single market. Freeports have no benefit for companies which operate already without tariffs or barriers. Our benchmark is that we need to have the same trading conditions as present, without question.
Our region regularly punches above its weight and the launch of the new Azuma train, built in County Durham, for the East Coast Mainline service was a perfect example of this. It was wonderful to see these trains in operation, the result of substantial investment and made by a great North East workforce.
I now look forward to seeing the whole fleet replacing the existing trains which are now over 30 years old.
This leads me nicely on to our major campaign to get investment in our East Coast Mainline between Edinburgh and London. The infrastructure between these two major cities is Victorian and badly in need of updating to cope with the ever-increasing need for capacity.
We are encouraging our members to support this work by letting us know why this rail route is so fundamental
to their businesses. The more case studies we are able to collect the better as we aim to present the findings to Government, clearly setting out the need for improvement.
Creating great connections around the region and beyond is at the very core of our campaign work together with creating a working North East.
The latest employment statistics make for extremely disappointing reading. We are not keeping pace with the national average. Our employment rate is falling while nationally it is rising. As well as this, our unemployment rate remains the highest in the country. We believe we need a targeted response to the issues which are holding back our businesses from employing more people. Our members cite the apprenticeship reforms two years ago as being detrimental to them employing young people. Brexit has also reduced cashflow, caused delays to investment decisions, all of which cause barriers to new job creation.
The latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) will be released next month, October and, particularly in the light of these figures, it will make for interesting reading. Results of the last two surveys have been a growing cause of concern, with confidence down, especially in the manufacturing sector. I was pleased to see these findings are held in high regard as they are used regularly by senior politicians to urge the Government to give us a fair deal.
I am also delighted that Durham University Business School is now sponsoring the QES publication.
Despite these challenging times there is still much to celebrate in our dynamic region and I look forward to seeing many of you at our Annual Dinner to be held again in Durham Cathedral. It is a huge honour to be able to host our members in this UNESCO world heritage building.
We are continuing to support and encourage our members to be outward- looking and take advantage of every opportunity to create new connections. One of these is the Dubai 2020 exhibition and we are holding a day-long conference on how best to exploit this global showcase.
Yes, there are challenges at present but also amazing chances to build our economy, by working as one, so together we grow stronger.
I would like to offer our most sincere condolences to the family and colleagues of the lawyer Peter Duncan who was tragically killed in Newcastle and worked at one of our members, Royal IHC. Our thoughts are with them all.
James Ramsbotham CBE