Power of change

Middle: Kevin Robertson, Partner & Head of Newcastle at Womble Bond Dickinson Right: Tom Willows, Partner in Real Estate, Left: Caroline Churchill, Partner in Corporate and Commercial Services

Power of change

Adapting to change will bring opportunities for businesses in the North East region, says Kevin Robertson, Partner and Head of Newcastle Womble Bond Dickinson.

2017 has been a year characterised by uncertainty and the need to adapt to the unpredictable. Brexit negotiations have continued with a real possibility of no deal or a hard Brexit concerning business leaders in the North East and throughout the UK, we’ve seen a snap General Election with surprising results and the first interest rate rise for 10 years.

However, all change brings opportunities - the North East’s economy focuses highly on exports and has great trading links with Europe as we have seven ports facing directly towards us. It is extremely vital that, as a region, we take advantage of any opportunities outside of the UK and ensure we capitalise on our position post-referendum. As a firm, we already have European relationships through strategic partnerships in Germany and France to help clients who need legal support across these jurisdictions and it is these kinds of relationships that all businesses must use to their advantage as we move through Brexit.

Our transatlantic combination this year has been a huge change and a really exciting time. Womble Bond Dickinson isn’t just the combination of a large UK and US law firm, it’s collaboration between an office in Newcastle and an office in Charlotte - it was borne out of a desire for each firm to better serve the regional business communities in which they are rooted and which are central to our new firm’s future.

With more than 400 partners and 1000 lawyers, the combination has increased our intellectual capital, allows us to innovate more readily and helps us to attract and retain the best talent in our local markets. This is good news not only for our clients who require a seamless transatlantic approach, but for those who we work closely with on purely domestic business.

The announcements from the Autumn Budget brought some welcome news for our North East region as it has given us a helping hand to building a stronger economy for 2018. The North of Tyne Devolution deal was announced which will bring much needed extra funding and powers from Westminster to the North East region and strengthen the North East’s role in the wider Northern Powerhouse. The Northern Powerhouse is a key asset for the North East, as it enables us to boost our local economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture.

The Chancellor heeded calls from the North East to find the £337m needed to fund a new fleet of Metrocars for the Tyne and Wear Metro. Those of us who live in the North East know that this investment in infrastructure was desperately needed. It’s a hugely positive step that will help to rebalance the local economy and provide more opportunities for those working and living in the region.

The £123m funding also announced by the Chancellor will allow the transformation of the former Sahaviriya Steel Industry (SSI) site at Redcar which aims to create 20,000 jobs and add £1bn to the local economy over the next 25 years.

This development represents real investment into the region and is evidence of the big ambitions for the area shared by Tees Valley Mayor, the South Tees Development Corporation and the Tees Valley Combined Authority. We look forward to playing our part in this project - our manufacturing and construction team has been involved with the closure and restoration of several major plants and sites across the UK and our first-hand experience
of these kinds of projects will be put to good use.

Adapting to a new way of doing business has also been highlighted by our Close Encounters report, published this year, on the power of collaborative innovation. The report shows that SMEs in the North East are making the most of the opportunities that corporate alliances can open up. Coming second only to London in terms of volume of deals per SME, the report reflects the vibrancy of the region’s small businesses, particularly in a couple of key areas.

First, the North East has a particular strength in high end manufacturing and automotive, with US auto giant Lear Corporation’s recent decision to bring its European R&D activities to Sunderland adding a further vote of confidence. Cluster groups like the North East Automotive Alliance are helping to spark partnerships between businesses large and small.

The North East is also one of the UK’s fastest growing regions for tech start-ups. Collaboration with corporates will become increasingly important to these dynamic businesses, which are brilliant at proof of concept innovation but often lack the regulatory pathways, brand and finance to make the most of their intellectual property. Together they can be a powerful force.

2018 will bring many changes we can’t predict, however there are also legal changes coming in that businesses should be preparing for – General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and gender pay gap legislation to name just two. Any business unsure whether it will be affected by the legislation around these issues or what it should be doing now to prepare for them should speak to its legal advisers as soon as possible.

The North East has a lot to build on from 2017 and we are continuing to grow as a region. Womble Bond Dickinson have a proud heritage in the North East and as a successful and growing business, we’re committed to supporting our local community and to continue investing in Newcastle, where our largest UK office is based. If we continue to get the support we need, the North East will grow stronger together.