THE North East is showing the rest of the UK what can be achieved by developing a strong export-led economy, a senior business leader said last night.
Dr Neil Bentley, deputy director general of the CBI, said encouraging more companies to export could prove “game-changing” for the UK economy, stressing the high esteem with which British goods and services continued to be held in overseas markets.
He feared a mood of pessimism had engulfed the British people whereas those in growing countries such as Mexico “have the optimism we used to, the sense of opportunity about the future”. “I fear that here in the UK, many have forgotten what that feels like,” he said.
“Across the world among our high-growth economies we need to target, our reputation is high. It’s why exports are essential to our recovery.
“It’s more than 14 years since net trade in goods and services made a positive contribution to UK GDP. But there is progress. In each of the last three months we exported more outside the EU than inside it. And that hasn’t happened since the early 1970s.”
Bentley told the CBI’s North East annual dinner in Gateshead that the region’s record in growing exports – they reached a record high of £14bn in the year to June, proved that “businesses here get it”. “Some 2,000 companies in the North East trade globally, showing the rest of the country what can be done,” he added.
The annual dinner had an export theme with companies told of the challenge set by UKTI regional director David Coppock to increase the number of companies exporting from the region by 500. A £5,000 prize was also offered on the night for the business which came up with the best idea for developing exports.
New CBI regional chairman Heidi Mottram, chief executive of Northumbrian Water, said the region had an exciting story to tell about its export prowess and it needed to shout louder to challenge less positive perceptions of the region.
“We not only have an exceptional export performance but we are home to some of the leading, most sophisticated and hi-tech companies in the manufacturing, chemical and automotive industries,” she said. “We want the world to recognise that contribution and celebrate it and we need to try to grow and develop it further.”
Her predecessor, Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan, agreed that the growth in exports, particularly at a time of recession was a cause for optimism.
Looking back over the period of his chairmanship, he said: “I am very proud of what the business community has done over the last two years,” he said.
“Two years we didn’t know that we would be in a double-dip recession, but a huge amount has been achieved.”
Read extended interviews with Heidi Mottram and Ken McMeikan in the next edition of 2020 Vision, published on October 10.