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Louise Hunter, Northumbrian Water on what emerged from the Chamber Partners economic recovery group discussions


Over the next few weeks, the Chamber will be releasing 5 question blogs with business leaders amongst our Partner members. The Chamber's Partner members have been working together since lockdown began to share insights and consider recommendations for the regional business community and all levels of Government as we look to recovery. Today's five questions are with Louise Hunter, Director of Corporate Affairs at Northumbrian Water Group, who is a part of the partner's team working with other members to consider what we need to get the region back on its feet.

1. Why did Chamber Partners come together to consider the impacts of Covid-19 and subsequent economic recovery?

As a group of businesses that together have a wide range of interests and impacts on the region, Chambers Partners felt it was important to come together quickly to share our learning and insights from the Covid-19 crisis with each other, but also with the wider Chamber network. The expertise that exists across this group helped us to understand the full implications of the crisis and what critical issues were emerging and would require local action from business, support from public sector colleagues or a policy response from Government. This work in turn helps to inform the campaigning activity of the Chamber as we look towards economic recovery.

2. What have been the main themes that have emerged from these discussions?

While our discussions were originally centred around typical business issues such as skills, transport and finance, it quickly became clear that any economic recovery needs to be built upon some cross-cutting themes. We recognised the renewed sense of community that we have seen during this crisis, the need for fairness to be at the heart of the recovery, a continued focus on sustainability and the need to generate new opportunities for businesses.

3. There is evidence emerging that this crisis may have a disproportionate impact on regions such as ours. How do you think Government and local decision makers should respond to this?

The economic data already shows the disproportionate impact that the crisis may have on the North East. It is reassuring that leaders across all sectors have quickly come together to gain agreement and focus on our priorities so that we can speak to national decision makers with a single voice. Evidence of this is coming out all the time. The Chamber has produced great work on this, as have NELEP (ref link) and the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

4. How can the business community help itself to support economic recovery?

The answers to recovering from this crisis cannot just lie in Westminster. We need to also look locally for the opportunities and the innovative ideas to seize and build on. Many of us will have learned new and different things about how to run our businesses as we have flexed and made rapid changes over the last few months. The behaviours and expectations of our employees and customers will have changed and we need to make sure that we use these changes to positive effect to grow a strong and productive local economy. We also need to keep a close eye on supporting the sustainability of our businesses – learning from any environmental gains we have made, supporting our local supply chains, and each taking action to support our young people, our future employees, whose learning has been disadvantaged by the crisis or who may be struggling to get their first job or even gain an experience of work.

5. Do you think this crisis provides any opportunities to change our economy for the better?

At an economic level, there is serious cause for concern that the crisis has served to significantly widen the gap between those at each end of the economic spectrum. Analysis of the crisis seems to point mainly to the huge risks, rather than to opportunities. However, individually, we are likely to be able to see many opportunities;

Whilst our social interactions with work colleagues has undoubtedly suffered during the crisis, our increased use of technology is likely to be making us more efficient. The rapid changes we have experienced in our personal and business lives, although challenging, will have made many of us more resilient and accepting of change. Those people working from home and / or balancing home schooling will have valued working more flexibly, perhaps making them more productive – and for those home-schooling definitely more patient! Through our zoom meetings, MS Team collaborations and Google hangouts, we will have had a new insight into each other’s home lives (family interruptions and pet introductions) and, ironically, may feel a more personal connection to each other and certainly a better understanding. I hope we can hang onto some of these experiences and take them back into our businesses to create new cultures of improved productivity, flexibility and understanding.