IN searching for a shorthand way to characterise the fortunes of the North East business community during 2010, I am tempted to borrow one of those horribly cliched football phrases.
For it has, in many ways, been a classic case of a ‘year of two halves’, with May’s General Election proving a key moment.
Before the election, the mood among the business community was best characterised as one of uncertainty. Yes, the recession was officially over, but there remained huge uncertainty about how the road out of it would unfold, with fears of a ‘double-dip’ still very real indeed.
With an election looming, there seemed to be a sense of paralysis as we all awaited its outcome.
When it came, few of us could have predicted the result. Granted, we knew there was a reasonable chance that the outcome would be a hung parliament, but few of us grasped the character of the government that would be formed nor what this would mean for policy.
Equally, whilst we all knew that swingeing cuts were on the cards once the new government settled in, none of the parties were up-front about the strength of the medicine.
And so if ‘uncertainty’ was the word that best describes the first half of 2010, it’s hard to argue that ‘cuts’ has been the omnipresent topic of the period since June.
The year will be remembered then for the savage cutbacks unleashed against the public sector; 2010 has in some senses been the year that the recession finally arrived for those paid out of the public purse. For many businesses coming to the end of their own difficult and painful restructuring processes, it was perhaps not a moment too soon.
That is, of course, an oversimplification, as businesses in this region are only too well aware. Just this week we have seen how cuts in public spending can have a dramatic and costly impact on our region’s private sector with leading North East plc eaga announcing 700 job losses.
Business leaders have also been working hard since the election helping to shape the new local enterprise partnerships and the North East Economic Partnership, the regional organisations which will ultimately replace One North East.
Quite how effective these bodies turn out to be remains to be seen but having strong business leadership in there from the start is essential.
For most companies, though, 2010 was a year of continuing the rebuilding process after the recession. It’s been tough – and it’s likely to remain so for some time to come.