Lesley Moody, President, North East England Chamber of Commerce (AES Digital Solutions):
I want to start by wishing everyone in the North East business community all the very best for this coming year with the hope it is far less challenging than 2020.
In the Chamber we have worked hard to support the many, fantastic exporters in our region with the new trading arrangements coming into place. Companies have to adapt to numerous changes to how they operate and our team are at the front line with them, offering advice on everything from documentation to HR concerns.
The pandemic has presented us all with so many issues to tackle but also some unprecedented opportunities which our businesses have embraced wholeheartedly. International trade has been extremely difficult in recent months due to Brexit and coronavirus yet at the same time by switching to the virtual world we have still been able to connect to businesses all over the globe.
I’m sure virtual trade missions where companies have been able to network with like-mind potential customers via the internet will still be in place long after the pandemic is over. Not only is it quicker, there are also substantial travel time and cost savings.
Some Northern Echo readers may have seen the results of our latest economic survey which show the great strides made by North East businesses despite everything during the last quarter. The statistics indicate we are still in very negative territory but heading upwards once again demonstrating the can do attitude of so many amazing businesses in our region.
The survey is a useful barometer for not only regional businesses who want to know if they are faring like other companies, but also for Government, as it is a clear source of information from the front line of our economy. They may not always act on the details however, the facts do provide concrete evidence of challenges we face and where we need support.
Part of our aim to help companies to be as successful as possible and 2020 saw the introduction of two new Chamber groups. The Women’s Leadership Forum, chaired by Alix Bolton of Northumbrian Water has a determined mission to support women to develop their careers. Their work focuses on reducing the gender pay gap, the future of work, any specific business support needed and how to bridge the socio-economic divide, which is so important for our region’s development.
We also set up a Race, Ethnicity and Discrimination Commission which, under the leadership of Prima Cheese director, Nagma Ebanks-Beni, is developing advice and helping SMEs in particular, to understand racial issues. The purpose of the work is to encourage development of new leaders from different backgrounds and ensure there are no blocks to anyone wanting to build their career in our region, no matter what their heritage.
The overarching mission of the Chamber is to help develop our businesses and we use the umbrella of Stronger North East to do this. As well as our themes of knowledge, connectivity and influence we are also encouraging more subtle and specific approaches to how we all work. The pandemic has made us all more aware of our communities and their strengths and the importance of kindness in how we all operate.
Looking to the future I hope 2021 affords us all the opportunity to meet face to face again. The theme of my Presidency was flexible working and I thought it might take a while to get this taken up but it was implemented widely with about 24 hours notice. Moving to conduct business on-line has been a challenge to some companies but I’m delighted to see the majority of people now realise the benefits of having the chance to work wherever is best for them, home, office or coffee shop!
The North East is a fantastic place to run a business and it’s my sincere hope for 2021 that we are able to exploit our full potential. I want to start by wishing everyone in the North East business community all the very best for this coming year with the hope it is far less challenging than 2020.