James Ramsbotham

North East England Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham

Stronger together

With seven ports and two airports, North East England Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham argues the region is in a great position to exploit new markets post-Brexit.

The New Year offers us all an opportunity for unprecedented change in how we do business and tackle challenges. One of the first of these is how we react to the EU Referendum result. I believe we need to take advantage of the new position we will be in next year and reframe our place in the global economy. We need to be ready to exploit new markets and seek out potential for growth.

Our region is so focused on exporting, it is imperative we do everything in our power to take advantage of these opportunities outside of the UK - especially as we have seven ports facing directly towards Europe. It is crucial we have a strategic sense of direction to maximise our position post-referendum.

We need to work together like we have never worked together before. All of us in the business community must be joined at the hip – the FSB, EEF, CBI - working towards a common goal of economic growth for the North East economy. We also need the local authorities to do the same and work closely to gain as much devolved authority as possible. The Tees Valley devolution deal has already secured them £15m annually and there are discussions now about the priorities for that investment.

Obviously, the North of the region is in a different position and we will continue to campaign for devolution for that part of the North East as well. We were extremely disappointed and frustrated that a deal could not be reached to take advantage of having more devolved powers. It is essential we pursue these new approaches to economic development if we are to change the historic pattern of under-performance here.

North East England contains huge assets not just for our local economy, but for the whole of UK plc. In areas such as skills, transport, inward investment, business support, housing and culture, there is a need for a much more specific approach for our aspirations and challenges. We believe devolution is essential to release our full potential.

I also see the Northern Powerhouse as a key instrument in helping us to achieve our ambitions. It will enable us to punch above our weight and give us extra visibility.

As we enter 2017 we can reflect on not just the challenges we have overcome, but the tremendous achievements.  The principal ones are: firstly Heathrow’s expansion, which was something we have long campaigned for. This connection is vital for our route into the rest of the world’s marketplace. It also will enable us to bring in more businesses and tourists to our region.

Second, Nissan decided to commit further investment in its Washington plant. The manufacture of two new models is a terrific compliment to all those managers, employees and suppliers who have made this plant so productive and successful.

Also, our cultural assets are first class in our region and the decision to award the Great Exhibition of the North to us is another perfect opportunity for us to shout. The rallying cry for 2017 is more certainty and, if we get the decisions and the support we need, the North East will rise to do its very best to succeed. We will grow stronger together.