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'2020 hasn't exactly been the best year...'

 

Jonathan Walker's latest column for the Journal

I’m going to buck the trend and say that 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year.

This time last year we were looking forward to/dreading (delete as appropriate) a general election, with talk of ‘getting Brexit done’ and ‘levelling up’.

Fast forward 12 months and Brexit isn’t done, nor do we feel particularly levelled up.

Pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing have all slipped into everyday parlance while our business community has grappled with some of the most challenging and bizarre economic circumstances in living memory.

Maybe, just maybe, there is some light at the end of the tunnel following positive news around a Covid vaccine.

For the time being however, we’ve got to accept that things will still be tough. We’re in the middle of our final economic survey of the year and I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I predict the results won’t be full of good news.

But as with every dark period there are always some positive stories to tell and some hope that better days are around the corner.

Just last week we finally saw the green light given to the new arena and conference centre on Gateshead quays; a missing link in our region’s offer which will put us alongside, and hopefully ahead of, other UK cities when it comes to attracting major events.

In the south of our region, redevelopment along the Tees continues with big new investments to support further growth of the port and to cement its place as a hub for green technologies.

Businesses themselves have also adapted remarkably to the crisis, showing ingenuity and innovation. Take Tharsus in Blyth, who won global attention for their Bump product which enabled the London Marathon to go ahead earlier this year.

Listing these things is not an attempt to ignore how tough the winter is going to be for so many of our businesses. We’re continuing to fight for support and recognition for the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality, culture and aviation.

But it provides at least a small amount of comfort to know that the region hasn’t come to a standstill because of the pandemic. We still see a great appetite for growth and networking such as the Chamber Showcase @ NE Expo next week.

We’ve got to harness the North East’s appetite for reinventing itself to give confidence and encouragement to businesses to stick with it and pay their part in building a stronger, fairer and more resilient economy in years to come.