Jack Simpson's Column for the Journal
It was a dramatic end to 2019, as the Conservative Party won a landslide election, gaining seven seats in the North East, but there’s plenty work ahead.
The big announcement over Christmas was the review of the “Green Book”, the guide for Government spending that has favoured a central economy.
This reflects new Government thinking to improve public welfare and, crucially, close regional productivity gaps, rather than perform to generic economic indicators.
This will be a chance to redirect investment to the North East to, with the right policy, address some of the regions weak spots, while also firing up our sectoral strengths (automotive, digital, energy, health) could make us world leaders.
Recent research has shown that 1% investment in infrastructure generates 0.9% in trade. Nowhere needs that investment than the North East, which runs trains better suited to a museum than a modern economy.
With that in mind, the Chamber’s “Fast Track East Coast” campaign will continue calling on Government to urgently invest in that trainline, improving our attraction to investors and ability to move freight around the country.
The Prime Minister has already announced plans to increase the minimum wage. This comes at a time of huge uncertainty for business, with “Cashflow” an increasing worry for members. Relief and support for business elsewhere could help ease the burden for business and, with more money in consumer pockets, stimulate further growth.
2020 will mark the year that we leave the EU, sort of. The Withdrawal Agreement was passed by Parliament just before Christmas, meaning we after January 31st, we will be in the departure lounge, now we just need to decide where we are going.
Phase Two of Brexit will be negotiations on what the future relationship with the European Union will look like.
Expect this to get very technical very quick. Already there is discussion on “Level Playing field” and regulatory alignment, but then we will have barriers to trade, service access to market and sanitary issues.
The Chamber will be at members side to help make sense of Brexit as it progresses, with events, podcasts and toolkits. But Government must help too.
It is vital that Government ensures this process is well communicated, so that business can tackle complex issues and properly prepare for the new relationship. After all, it is business that will bear the brunt of Brexit changes, and tasked with making it a success.