'Skills and transport will be key to devolution'

'Skills and transport will be key to devolution'

With 200 years’ achievement to its credit, the NECC under James Ramsbotham now turns to fight the region’s corner in a new era of devolved funding.

In its 200th year of a lustrous existence the North East Chamber of Commerce set out its priorities no less fearlessly for the region’s needs in a new age approaching of devolution.

The chamber has told the government skills and transport should be key priorities in devolving powers to the region – at the same  time warning businesses they must work together if devolution is to succeed.

By reducing the skills gap with the rest of the UK and cutting down journey times between the region and other major cities, the North East would, in the chamber’s view, be fit to make an even stronger contribution to the Northern Powerhouse the government has spoken of.

Chief executive James Ramsbotham stresses the critical role the North East, albeit a small region, plays in the UK economy, with the best export record in the country, significant energy expertise, capacity for further residential and industrial development and the location of a hub of major industry clusters.

“Despite this,” he declared, “our region has performed below potential for many years. So we believe commitment to devolution is vital to maximise our assets. Whitehall has shown incapable of delivering an approach beneficial to the whole country, which is why we must ensure the North East has the chance to make decisions for itself.”

And one thing more of which he is certain: “While debate exists around which model of devolution would benefit the region, if we are to succeed and make the optimum use of devolution we must have accountability and clarity over strong leadership.”

The chamber will no doubt fight for these causes throughout 2016, and meanwhile can feel proud that 2015’s celebrations marking 200 years of championing business in the North East have proved memorable.

Ramsbotham says: “Throughout that time we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with the one-man bands and helping many SMEs evolve into regional titans of industry by removing barriers to growth, lobbying government, helping firms sell overseas, training the future workforce. We have been here to help, support and empower our members.”

The NECC’s head explains: “The chamber is an institution plugged into business like no other - a force for good. While the business landscape has changed in the North East, I firmly believe our whole is much greater than the sum of our parts.”

Traditional strengths in manufacturing and engineering, he points out, continue to make up a large portion of the North East Top 200 Companies, and this ability to make products and sell them overseas sets the region they serve apart from much of the country.

He promises: “We’ll continue to support our firms and further boost the region’s export credentials, whether it’s via upgrades to our roads, improvements to our rail network or continuing the fight against restrictive air passenger duty.”

“We are an evolving region. But the principle of business being stronger collectively is as relevant today as it was 200 years ago. We have the land, resources, skills and enthusiasm to become the driving force behind the Northern Powerhouse,” he adds.

“We can demonstrate to the rest of the country we are not a problem for them to solve; we are an untapped resource bursting with potential.”