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Jewel-like memories shine in a lacklustre year

As 2012 ended we asked our regular columnists to take a look back over the preceding 12 months and take a long look back over the significance of last year and the messages it has for the future.

As 2012 ended we asked our regular columnists to take a look back over the preceding 12 months and take a long look back over the significance of last year and the messages it has for the future.

James Ramsbotham is chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC)

HERCULEAN Olympian achievement, Biblical weather, emergence from recession and a Golden Jubilee – 2012 provided a host of iconic moments.

The Olympics was lauded for providing stimulus to pull the economy out of recession, but optimism returned to the North East long before Antony Joshua claimed Team GB’s last gold medal.

Both the Office of National Statistics and NECC’s Quarterly Economic Survey demonstrated that employment levels across the region rose throughout 2012.

We remain the only English region with a positive balance of payments in exports, which reached £14.1bn for the 12 months to the end of September, another record high.

NECC lobbied the Government ceaselessly with the message that the North East is not a basket case looking for continued or increasing hand-outs; we’re an unrealised asset that is capable of so much more.

NECC called on the Government to reduce red tape, ease planning legislation and improve the regional transport infrastructure – all key aims set out in the NECC Manifesto in January – to equip the region’s businesses with the tools to do more for the UK and in turn stimulate our own economic fortunes.

And government has begun to listen with pledges to reduce bureaucracy and plans to reduce planning regulation to stimulate the construction industry.

Since Local Enterprise Partnerships were created, we called for more money to be made available and for the Government to place greater faith in them to play a prominent role in regional infrastructure and business priorities, so the decision to provide them with additional investment must be welcomed.

We’re all working hard to make our companies, counties and region not just a UK success story, but a global success story.

The North East has the companies to do this. In 2013 our message to the Government must be, “Business is doing its share for the recovery – it’s up to you to match our efforts!”

Vinay Bedi is divisional director of investment manager Brewin Dolphin in Newcastle

IT probably all started with credit crunch and was swiftly followed by sub prime, flowing through to such phrases as solvency ratios, debt default, quantitative easing, etc, yet now the dinner party cognoscenti are downing their festive spirits with a plentiful helping of the fearful fiscal cliff.

What is perhaps more amazing than the continued strength of the world’s stock markets during 2012 is the public’s appetite for digesting economic jargon and accepting it as part of our everyday world.

In 2007 these words and phrases were unheard of; mind you, the concept of the western world essentially accepting recession, or minimal growth at best, over most of the ensuing 10 years would have been a theory that our dinner party friends would have kept well clear of, even as the port was whistling round the table.

So was 2012 just a prelude to the next great fear? Stock markets have held up well, but still haven’t flown up towards 1999 levels.

The year appears to have been the aperitif, maybe the US presidential election moved us on towards the starter.

But at this stage it seems like we have simply passed through 2012, nothing has been resolved and certainty remains as far away as ever.

We await the main course in 2013, but what is it? The fiscal cliff? Or perhaps even worse, the dreaded economic hard landing in China?

Kevin Rowan is regional secretary of the TUC

2012 started in relatively grim fashion for the North East. The prediction was for pretty much continuous pressure to cut costs and jobs in the public sector and scepticism that there would be significant jobs growth in the private sector to absorb these losses.

Regrettably this was a fairly accurate picture of what would happen.

In local government, health, education and the civil service, thousands of workers have been made redundant as budgets have been drastically squeezed.

Meanwhile, there has been little headway in a private sector led recovery to ‘rebalance’ the region’s economy.

While there have been bright pockets of activity, in oil and gas, subsea and automotive sectors, overall the picture is of stagnant economic woe and it has been a year where it has been difficult to be optimistic.

The Government has also consistently shown its true colours all year. Under Osborne’s claim that we’re all in this together, benefit cuts and withdrawing employment support for young people has seen the most vulnerable people in our communities suffer the most while the wealthiest have enjoyed a tax break and the Chancellor has shown his commitment to finance over families by further reducing Corporation Tax.

It is not an overstatement to say this has been the most difficult year many families in the North East have had for some considerable time. It is at times like this that the people of the region do stick together and show the community spirit the North East is famous for, whether that’s food banks or other ways to help each other out. Most people, however, will just be glad to see the back of 2012.

Fiona Cruickshank is an entrepreneur and investor who is on the board of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

IT has been a tough year, not so much in terms of opportunities, which are there, whether it’s SCM Pharma or Gabriel investee companies, but often the new normal in funding streams can slow things down and lead to it taking longer getting to where you want to be.

More collaborative ways of working, choosing priorities, pushing your networks for contacts and ideas and being strict with your resource have all come into play a lot more in 2012. We’ve all been learning to say no to things that we might have said yes to previously – a result of analysing business strategy and being strict as there’s less resource about. It feels like it has been harder work than normal! However, there are some good solid foundations for growth next year.

Lucy Armstrong runs the Alchemists business consultancy in Gateshead

LOOKING back on 2012 I believe UK private and family businesses did really well in very uncertain times. There has been a common theme among The Alchemists’ clients and the companies across the UK that I have represented as chairwoman of CBI’s SME council: they worked hard to deliver continued quality to customers and maintained good relationships with their suppliers. Most importantly of all, employees, directors and shareholders all pulled in the same direction. They worked together.

We have seen very little industrial strife last year and long may that continue. Staff have worked harder for less and retained their jobs as a result. Businesses have retained people and talent when they could have shed jobs to cut costs. In 2013 their public sector cousins will, I hope, adopt the same approach.

2012 also saw talented management teams, with a great work ethic, delivering enhanced results. The consumer was buying value and quality and those businesses prepared to invest in their long-term future have been rewarded. Yet again the North East was a net exporting region and I trust we will continue to compete successfully in markets beyond the UK.

Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland

2012 has been a really memorable year, personally and professionally. It marked a return to higher education for me after many years in the ‘real world’ of business.

Given the massive challenges faced by UK universities, including student fees, UK Border Agency concerns and an elongated economic downturn, my new role has meant balancing commercial reality with a commitment to strong academic values to reinforce Sunderland’s position as a quality provider of education.

Despite many global challenges, it has been a very exciting year. We’ve seen record numbers of students graduating, both here and overseas. Vivid memories include being part of joyful graduation ceremonies in Vietnam, Kenya, Malaysia and Sunderland, and seeing the extraordinary impact they have on families, friends and communities.

These events demonstrate the global reach of UK higher education, and how it’s changing aspirations worldwide, acting as a positive force for change. My university opened a London campus last year, and we’ve already welcomed 1,000 business students from all over the world.

The year’s good news was crowned with the summer’s spectacular Olympic Games. The incredible pride and goodwill they created across the country was uplifting.

We have to take that positive motivation into 2013 – after a bit of a rest over Christmas!

Sarah Green, regional director of CBI North East

MULTI-MILLION-POUND investments in some of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world; the first new mass-market car brand to be built in the UK in 23 years; Sir Richard Branson’s banking empire opening in Newcastle ... who would have thought 2012 will be remembered by many as a year the UK economy stayed firmly in the doldrums?

In the North East we’ve had plenty to shout about.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been easy for anyone in business as the travails of the economic slowdown continue to burden those leading companies in most sectors. And even those that have enjoyed a successful 2012 will reflect on the fact that the rewards have been particularly hard earned this year.

Delivering profitable growth has rarely been tougher.

Despite the strong economic headwinds, the North East business community continues to prove resilient and in many cases firms have exciting plans for growth. If that’s what we can achieve in the tough climate of 2012, just imagine what we can do when the economy picks up.

Stoker Frater, Northumberland delegate to the National Farmers’ Union council

LOOKING back over 2012, we must look further than the last few months, which have been extremely trying for farmers of all types, especially those growing arable and horticultural crops.

In the early part of the year the weather was better than usual, fertiliser was applied earlier on crops and grassland, and both grew to look as if we would have a good year. The sheep farmers in our area had a really good lambing, despite the worries of Schmallenburg disease, and a drought was forecast. But cold wet weather came and stopped everything in its tracks.

Despite the weather cattle were a very good trade in the spring and turnout was a little later, but the slow growth of grass took its toll on both cattle and sheep in the summer. We were probably luckier than our counterparts in the West, in that we did get our silage crops ensiled. Good yields would make up for poorer quality, but at least we had full clamps and plenty of bales of silage, hay being more difficult to get.

CAP reform goes on at a snail’s pace, but adds to the insecurity of the industry. With landlords pushing for higher rents, cost will have to be watched. The euro goes from one crisis to another and has had significant effect on the autumnal lamb sales, and this will continue into 2013.

Keith Hann, financial PR and Journal columnist

DESPITE the reliably apocalyptic weather, the best (if also the most predictable) news of 2012 turned out to be the shock discovery that the ancient Mayans had completely screwed up their calculations, no doubt under the influence of fermented chocolate, and that the vast majority of us are still here.

Although the economic news and prospects remained unremittingly grim throughout, the memories of the year that seem likeliest to prove long-term keepers are mostly positive ones, notably those of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Olympics and Paralympics. As if that were not enough, Andy Murray finally won something, and there were even unconfirmed rumours that he might have smiled.

Meanwhile, from the pasty tax to Hillsborough, there were encouraging signs of those in authority being willing to listen to reason and take action to put wrongs right.

All of which added up to a year in which you did not have to be a potentially UKIP-voting fruitcake to feel proud to be British, wave a flag, know the words of the national anthem and raise the occasional cheer.

On the other hand, I note with concern that a variety of authorities from Nostradamus to Buddha apparently reckon the end of the world was actually scheduled for 2013 all along ...

 

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