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James Ramsbotham, N Echo column


James Ramsbotham’s column which appeared in yesterday’s Northern Echo

Darlington and the Tees Valley have had quite a week.

I was delighted to hear that Amazon is in talks to set up a base near the A66. They had been going to locate in our region a few years ago but the plan was circumvented by Scotland unfortunately, who offered more financial assistance than we could at the time.

Amazon knows how much we can offer them and it is a great testament to the skills on offer in our region that they are looking at establishing a base here. We are a great region with so much to offer potential investors it is no wonder they see the potential to grow their company.

It is a sad case that the good news about the no-doubt substantial number of jobs coming through Amazon is going to be mitigated by the closure of two key stores in Darlington town centre. Marks & Spencer and Binns were important book-ends for the town and I know the local community will miss them, as well as the employment opportunities.

Darlington is not alone. High Streets up and down the country are similarly struggling to find their way in the on-line, time-poor world in which we now live. We are currently working with Lichfields to identify what support town centres need to thrive again and will report on our findings in the Autumn.

If only our Government has a similarly pragmatic approach to Brexit.

Last week saw 72 hours of debate in the House of Commons which resulted in us actually being no closer to a final deal. According to reports the debate was dominated by political infighting and grand gesturing, on both sides, but little progress on the serious business concerns that loom over Brexit.

Political chaos is undermining business confidence and deterring preparations. If British business is to succeed post-Brexit, we need to see pro-active leadership in the national interest, and to start, the Government could actually publish the White Paper they should have released in 2016. The only heartening thing to hear was Catherine McKinnell quoting our campaign on key Brexit issues and stressing the importance of barrier free trade to the North East.

Our international trade must be protected and grown, so well done to Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen who visited Thailand and South Korea recently to encourage precisely this.