Seeking order in a volatile environment
Maintaining support for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic; working to create a Stronger North East; launching new measures to increase diversity in the workplace; and campaigning for Brexit clarity
Lesley Moody MBE
Welcome to our latest CONTACT magazine, one which launches at a time when there has rarely been such volatility and uncertainty for many of our regional businesses.
One when statistics show clearly the level of impact COVID-19 has had and will continue to have, for some months ahead
Among the figures, we see worrying employment numbers, which are only likely to get worse. I was, however, pleased to see the Chancellor extend the job retention scheme to March 2021. Our last quarterly economic survey also had similarly concerning results, with confidence remaining low.
In our view Government support measures have been piecemeal and without essential clarity. Certain sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality, alongside travel and aviation, are being hugely affected by the on-going uncertainty. We will continue to campaign to get the help they urgently need.
On a positive note it is good to see so many of our local theatres, attractions, venues and galleries, including Sage Gateshead, Beamish Museum and the Customs House, now receiving funding from Government.
Our campaigning is only successful because, our members, who respond to requests for information. Thank you! Your replies and insights not only feed into our work, they in turn, inform the British Chambers of Commerce’s communications directly with Government.
The main platform for our campaigns is Stronger North East. This powerful manifesto highlights the Government support we seek. It’s a fluid document that reflects regional and member priorities as they change, looking at what is relevant to our members and the region.
Which leads me on to racial diversity, very much in the news in recent months.
When James Ramsbotham, Chamber chief executive, rang to discuss the establishment of our Racial and Diversity Commission, I was really excited about it. I believe this is an extremely powerful project to launch and very much look forward to seeing its results.
The findings are going to be very useful for all our members but particularly to SMEs who may not have the in-house specialists to advise them on how best to build a diverse business.
In my own company over the years we have had team members from all over the world – China, Taiwan, India and Poland to name a few countries. When you work with clients globally it is fantastic to have a team from different backgrounds to get the benefit of their insights and knowledge.
This pandemic and the need to conduct so much of our business virtually has given us the chance to hear from speakers who might have otherwise been hard to access.
A case in point was the tremendous webinar we had recently with the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey. He was extremely frank with us, answering our members’ questions in an extremely open manner, which was greatly appreciated.
Good news is always welcome, especially at this time, and our virtual event with the Norwegian ambassador was welcome and uplifting.
He was keen to extol the links between the North East to his country as ‘near neighbours’ and to emphasise the great opportunities to do business together as two European countries outside the EU.
Which brings me to Brexit and a less positive part of my column, I’m afraid.
We have campaigned for more information about our future trading deal with the EU for so long it probably feels like forever but make no mistake with the transition period ending on the December 31… the end is most definitely nigh!
During the pandemic Brexit has been somewhat side-lined, but if we end up with no agreement, which looks possible, it will be so damaging for our region. The majority of our trade is with Europe and exporters cannot suffer tariffs and delays with this major marketplace. We have a new US administration with a new President to be inaugurated on January 20. I hope we can build an improved trade agreement for members doing business in the US.
The Chamber will continue to campaign and demand Brexit clarity from the Government as we have done with so many issues over our long history.
Our success is down to you, our members, the Chamber team and its leadership. Which brings me to thank Lucy Winskell, chair of our board for eight years. Lucy has always impressed me with her energy, measured, calm approach and skill in helping people look at the ‘bigger picture’.
We are sorry to see her step down but are delighted that she has become a co-opted council member for the Chamber.
I also want to congratulate her on her appointment as chair of the North East LEP where I’m certain she’ll do a great job!
I’m also delighted to welcome John Marshall as our new chair and look forward to working with him.
I’ve so missed meeting members face to face since March, and I am as always, extremely grateful for all your support.
I wish you all a Happy Christmas and all best wishes for 2021.