NECC chief says devolution and infrastructure spending should be top priority for the North East in Autumn Statement

NECC Chief executive James Ramsbotham called for Chancellor George Osborne to devolve more powers to the region in announcement on December 3

Lynne Cameron/PA Wire Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

Devolution of powers and infrastructure spending should be priorities for George Osborne when he makes his Autumn Statement, the North East Chamber of Commerce has said.

The business membership organisation is also calling on the Chancellor to focus on skills and make apprenticeships more attractive to businesses ahead of the announcement on December 3.

Chief executive James Ramsbotham is calling for swift devolution of powers to the region, more flexible tax and spend decisions that focus not only on London, as well as the investment in infrastructure that would unlock growth in the private sector.

He said: “It is crucial that the Chancellor understands North East weaknesses as much as its strengths when he is preparing the economic blueprint that will carry us forward to next year’s general election.

“It must acknowledge that due to the North East’s leadership in export, expertise in vital industry sectors, and capacity for further development, this region is an essential component of future national growth. Far from being a problem for the UK to solve, the North East is a huge asset, which must be allowed to flourish.

“Devolution is rising up the political agenda. Clearly certain policies are better made locally or regionally and this must happen with the buy-in of business, without delays which could engender lost opportunities for wealth and job creation.”

Infrastructure spending is also important to the region, says the NECC, with many hopeful that the Chancellor will back upgrades to the A1 following a feasibility study on the main road through the region to Scotland.

The NECC has also called for a “step-change” in skills so the region has a “work ready” supply of people to fill positions.

James Ramsbotham
James Ramsbotham
 

Pro-growth policies that are specific to the region could also play a crucial role, said Mr Ramsbotham, adding: “The North East is coming back stronger than ever and it is our businesses that are driving forward our growth. We say it every year, but more must be done to help them deliver more.

“Our submission calls for a suite of measures to build on North East strengths, stimulate further employment and attract investment. The region’s continued excellent performance in opening up overseas markets contributes enormously to UK Plc, but by playing to strengths in this field and manufacturing and utilising regional capacity for further business development, the North East could be contributing so much more.

“According to our own Quarterly Economic Surveys, businesses in the North East are recruiting more people, seeing rises in sales and orders and investing more in their staff and companies than at any time since the recession began. They are performing admirably and driving the regional recovery forward. It is now up to the Government to match this effort.”

Funding for apprenticeships between the 16 to 18, 19 to 24 and adult age brackets should also be made available, Mr Ramsbotham said, to make apprenticeships more attractive to employers and help address youth unemployment.

The NECC chief executive added: “Although employment levels in the North East are high by historic standards, unemployment remains a concern given it is significantly higher than the UK average and the highest of all regions. Youth unemployment is still a significant concern. About a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed in the North East.”

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