A year it was all happening here

As 2007 draws to a close and we look forward to 2008 with hope and just a little foreboding, nebusiness asks a few notable members of the North business community to express their feelings about the year past and the year ahead.

As 2007 draws to a close and we look forward to 2008 with hope and just a little foreboding, nebusiness asks a few notable members of the North business community to express their feelings about the year past and the year ahead.

Sarah Green, regional director of CBI

IF we compare year on year, the economic and political landscape is quite different in 2008 to the more optimistic outlook of last year.

Sarah Green

Within the first few weeks of the new year, we can expect Government announcements on CGT, Northern Rock (both its future, which in the short term looks likely to be under state ownership, and also on changes to the tripartite regulatory framework), pensions and nuclear power. So, there are plenty of challenges.

For many it may feel more “in the bleak mid-winter” than “deck the halls”. Our latest surveys show retail spending slowing and manufacturing growth falling. But let’s put this in perspective. CBI has revised growth figures, but we still expect the economy to grow 2%. And at the beginning of this year, the North-East was outperforming the whole of the economy and so we are entering this period from a strong base.

There are great opportunities for the region in a number of niche areas in particular, innovations to support the climate change and energy agenda, the growing marine and offshore sector and healthcare. And we must celebrate some of this year’s success stories, which include Eaga, Wellstream and Vertu.

Richard Bottomley, NECC president elect

REPLICATING the success of 2007 is going to be a tall order for the North-East business community.

The current global economic climate, high fuel costs, high interest rates, the weak dollar and a general lack of confidence brought about by the credit crunch, will make 2008 a testing year for the whole country, not just the North-East.

The good news is, our region stands a better chance than others of being less affected by this. Historically, the North-East has never hit the dizzy heights of the South-East, but by the same token, adverse trading conditions seldom have the same negative impact.

Support is in place to ensure that businesses can cope, and that support is NECC. The NECC will work tirelessly for its members in 2008, just as it did in 2007.

It will represent its members and the region by lobbying government to ensure an economic policy which continues to allow our members to thrive, by providing the right products and services, and with NECC networking events you will be able to secure more business and source better suppliers.

As I look forward to the role of NECC president, I am keen to say thank you to Maggie Pavlou, who has for the past two-and-a-half years worked tirelessly to help the region and NECC and its members to prosper. This year will not be a year for change, but a year for building on what we already do so well.

Alan Hall, director of manufacturers’ group EEF Northern

2007 has been a B of a year. No foul language intended here but with Boom conditions in manufacturing and Blair, Bush and Brown in the headlines then this is why it smacks as a B of a year. If you add to this the Bali Climate Change Conference and our own new Business Link North-East, then I hope you are with me on this theme.

Alan Hall

Blair is pushing his Biography, Branson is pushing his Bank whereas Russell Brand would be simply happy if we buy his Booky Wook. Reportedly, Victoria has a special golden B for Mr Beckham and I can hear Gordon Brown saying “Prepare the Budget, Darling, de-Bug it and be careful with the tax Breaks, Darling”.

Already in the headlines this year is Barack Obama. As we look Onwards to 2008, we could find Hilary Clinton Overtaken in the Presidential stakes with Barack as the new world leader.

There will be new Opportunities for all of us in 2008. We have the promise of a new 007 movie featuring Daniel Craig being released. One NorthEast will themselves again be pushing the Passionate People, Passionate Places theme to Open new horizons for the region. Perhaps Dr WhO can help us to see what the year might have in store.

We are entering the new year with car fuel standing at over £1 per litre. We do not know the plans that Opec may have. I suspect it will not be news to bring a smile to our faces. The burning of fossil fuels and the issue of CO2 levels is rarely a good news story.

Also if you happen to get off on reality TV, then we may have some more celebrities trying to get Out of here. You never know, but if FabiO does not work out, then we may find Mr CapellO in the Australian jungle.

I am optimistic about the picture for manufacturing for 2008. We have some excellent companies in the region with some highly engineered products. Long may this success story continue.

Yes, standing back, oh my, I hope 2008 is a good year for you.

Keith Hann, Northumberland financial PR

2007: ANNUS MIRABILIS

This was the year that the North-East finally earned its rightful place on the map. Prior to 2007, there was only a white patch in most atlases, with a drawing of a man in a flat cap smoking a tab and leading a whippet, and the inscription: “Here be working class people with funny accents.”

As soon as the MP for Sedgefield retired (what was his name again?) the region at last fulfilled its manifest destiny by becoming the place where everything important happened. The first run on a British bank since 1866, the loss of the personal details of half the population, the bizarre Labour donations scandal; even the strange case of the amnesiac canoeist. All born and bred right on our doorstep. Every time I picked up a newspaper, my heart swelled with the same sort of local pride I get whenever I see a Greggs pasty commercial.

Spookily, a year ago I was pointing out that my catchphrase “What could possibly go wrong?” really was the most important question anyone in business could ask themselves. I hate to say “I told you so,” but all this year’s disasters could have been avoided if those concerned had applied their minds to that very question.

2008: ANNUS HORRIBILIS?

Old Mother Hann’s crystal ball reveals:

Jan: Gordon Brown toasts Hogmanay with: “At least it can’t get any worse!” and his ceiling falls on him.

Feb: Northern Rock sold to lollipop lady from Kenton – questions asked in House.

Mar: First tabloid picture of Fabio Capello with head replaced with root vegetable.

Apr: Government announces loss of all national tax records as April Fool jape.

May: Newcastle win FA Cup; Sports Direct wins top corporate governance award; Emirates flight makes “textbook” emergency landing after mid-air collision with Gloucester Old Spot.

Jun: Britain’s oldest man reveals his secret – three fry-ups, a bottle of Famous Grouse and 40 Capstan Full Strength every day. Chief medical officer resigns.

Jul: House prices fall for sixth successive month; editor of Daily Mail taken into care.

Aug: Gordon Brown goes on holiday to Dorset and signs up for canoeing course.

Sep: Shock rise in sea level swamps offshore wind farms; Government announces major new commitment to wave power.

Oct: Diana inquest concludes after 248 days with “accident” verdict. Pope re-affirms his Catholicism. Largest ever study of bear habits promises shock revelations.

Nov: Cherie Blair wins I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!; Tony comes second.

Dec: Gordon Brown walks into a London police station and says: “I think I may be a missing person.”

Kevin Rowan, regional secretary, Northern TUC

THE two outstanding items of good news from 2007 have been the tremendous growth in trade union membership in the region and the announcement that the North-East has enjoyed higher economic growth than any other part of the UK. I wonder if the two are related…

Kevin Rowan

The Trade Union Trends report showed the northern region leading the way in trade union growth with an increase of 2.4% in union density to 38.9%, the highest rate in mainland Britain and a rise of just under 7%.

This is a tremendous boost for trade union representatives, who work extremely hard to ensure that workers are treated fairly at work, enjoy a safe and healthy work environment and, increasingly, are encouraged and supported to take opportunities to train and develop their skills. Union learning reps in the North have been incredibly successful trailblazers in enabling workers to gain skills at work. Every workplace should have at least one.

Trade union membership is good for the region too and news that the North-East economy is growing allows us to approach the new year with optimism. The growth we are enjoying indicates the region is increasingly robust and that our diversifying economic base is providing a sound platform for the future.

On a sour note, the fact that the National Front continues to choose Newcastle for its so-called national march is an affront to the city and to the region. This and other far-right activity goes against the grain of the North-East and does not reflect the welcoming, inclusive nature of the region. The highlight for us all is that the response and reaction against racism is growing in the region all the time and the North-East can be proud that it remains free from any far-right presence in any elected office.

There is no doubt that the “series of unfortunate events” in the region in the last quarter of the year are a challenge to our confidence and reputation. We do, however, have much to celebrate, and it is vital that we now call upon what the region has always done well, to work together, and to demonstrate the collective leadership to launch us into a successful 2008.

My principal hope for next year is that we remain positive, remain confident in our own ability to do well. Success will include seeing continuing growth and quality in the regional economy continue, in experiencing deeper equality and diversity in the labour market and enjoying trade union growth on the back of the extremely positive and valuable everyday contribution of union reps at work.

Maggie Pavlou, president of the North-East Chamber of Commerce

WHILE I am a firm believer in looking ahead rather than back, I can happily make an exception to take a second look at a memorable 12 months.

It was 12 months with such an abundance of success it has made us the fastest developing region in the country.

The award-winning Go For Jobs campaign, a partnership between NECC and The Journal and Evening Gazette newspapers, continued where it left off in 2006, forcefully making the case that failure to invest in transport systems in the North-East is damaging economic growth potential.

The signing of a trade agreement with Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce opened business links between the North-East and the world’s richest city, and signing a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai Federation of Industry and Commerce has strengthened further our international business links.

And to cap it off, NECC and member Wellstream International Ltd, flew the flag for the region in style at the recent BCC Awards in London, achieving national acclaim in the form of the award for Meeting the Skills Development Agenda and the Business of the Year.

At the heart of this progress lies NECC and, most important, its members – 4,500 businesses, large and small, encapsulating everything good about the North-East. While 2007 was successful, all the ingredients are there for 2008 to be even better, and I am sure NECC will be at the forefront of this success.

Bill Midgeley, North-East businessman

WHILE the year has ended with some economic gloom in the region, we need to acknowledge that we have at least one world class group of individuals who have been outstandingly successful. These are the traffic planners, who we have to acknowledge have had an outstanding year in creating even more chaos.

More bus lanes have been introduced, traffic flows have been altered with diversions, or the simple means of putting barriers across roads. And there is the continuing employment of traffic wardens to prevent people using the approach road to the Tyne Bridge, a purpose surely for which the road was built.

This really is a skill we should export. And as we are concerned about our failures, let’s celebrate our successes.

No doubt conferences are already being arranged for next year to see what further chaos could be brought to the region, with more initiatives to slow down, or even prevent, the flow of motor vehicles – other, of course, than local authority vans, buses and taxis.

On second thoughts, wouldn’t it be far more simple to look at ways of keeping traffic moving, rather than creating barriers – or I am being naive?

One great celebration of the coming year will no doubt be the European City of Culture, which Merseyside was somewhat fortunate to take from our own region. I have, therefore, a vision – or perhaps it is a hope – of visiting the City of Culture this year. This will inevitably mean standing in the rain in Liverpool city centre, probably in a marquee, listening to details of the attractive events the city intends to put on as the year progresses.

After my recent visit, I have no doubt that one of those events will be a tour of all the half-finished buildings in the city, explaining what their original use was to have been. No doubt there will be surplus office space on Merseyside from 2009 onwards.

All this to be accompanied by reports of sunshine and beautiful weather throughout the whole spring, summer and autumn covering the North-East.

That might sound like sour grapes on losing to Merseyside, but it will be a fascinating year to see how the continuing and permanent attractions of NewcastleGateshead, and indeed the whole region, compare with what Liverpool offers in its one-off event.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer