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James Ramsbotham's column on national awards and industrial strategy


I was fortunate enough to be at the national British Chambers of Commerce awards in London last Thursday and see two of our outstanding members do really well in their particular categories.

Prima Cheese in Seaham was named runner up in the Export Business of the Year category against stiff competition and EGGER UK was awarded runner up in the Commitment to People Development. Congratulations also to Omega Plastics, Mediaworks and O’Brien Recyling who got through to the national final as well. They are really exceptional companies who blaze a trail in their field and are set for even more success in the coming year.

We were hoping for some supportive measures for companies like these in the Government’s long-awaited Industrial Strategy.

In short we believe the strategy is good but not yet good enough.

There is much to welcome however. The strategic approach to skills, transport and industrial development is a positive move forward, as is the long term view on new technology.

With our expertise in research I also welcome the fact that a percentage of our GDP will go towards R & D. To be truly effective this funding has to be channelled around the country and not just support South East’s businesses. There are exceptional innovative research companies in our region and they deserve support to develop further just as much as those in the ‘golden triangle’.

I was delighted that we did receive real encouragement in parts of this strategy. There was a vote of confidence in our industrial catapults with recognition that organisations like CPI have led the way in closing the gap between high level research and bringing products to market. The work done by them is an outstanding benchmark on the national stage. It was also good to have a positive mention about Carbon Capture on Teesside.

One of the key Government messages is narrowing the gap between North and South economic activity. Indeed, it has been called ‘the biggest prize in Britain’.

I often say the North East is not a problem for the rest of the country to solve and this is a case in point. All we ask for is an even playing field.

The strengths of our region are quite different to other areas and deserve proper support to be fully exploited. If we are able to grow our economic base, the UK, in turn, grows its economic base. It sounds simple but the message does not always get through.