Lots on the agenda at annual business forum
Brexit, Scottish independence and transport infrastructure were among the talking points as the region's business lobby group held its annual review.
Representatives from firms in sectors as diverse as insurance to hotels to renewable energy attended the get-together of the North East England Chamber of Commerce’s Northumberland branch at Linden Hall.
As well as offering a useful opportunity for networking, the event also acts as an AGM, with John McCabe, of Round Table Solutions, being re-elected as the county chairman.
The Chamber’s chief executive, James Rambotham, went through some of the key issues that the lobbying group has been focusing on in the past year, while the guest speaker was MP Anne-Marie Treveylan, who talked about her role on the Public Accounts Committee – ‘I spend my life saying, ‘it’s our money, not yours’ – as well as being a Brexiteer and the opportunities for business that she sees as part of our leaving the EU.
She also answered questions from the audience, on the A1, on Scottish independence or further devolution and on business rates.
Looking back on the year, Mr Ramsbotham first talked about the Chamber’s rebranding – from the North East Chamber of Commerce to the North East England Chamber of Commerce, which, as much as anything, reflects the global outlook of many of the region’s businesses.
Needless to say, this means that Brexit has been a key consideration with a series of meetings with Ministers and senior officials taking place to discuss issues for the North East, which has seven ports facing east, towards mainland Europe.
Devolution is another important topic with the three north of Tyne authorities, including Northumberland, proposing to go it alone. The door must be kept open for the other four councils though, said Mr Ramsbotham.
There has been progress in upgrading both the A1 and the A69, but there remains plenty more to do, he added.
Likewise, Mr Ramsbotham paid credit to the county council and BT on the broadband roll-out, but this is ‘one of those jobs that’s never really done’.
Mrs Trevelyan, on Brexit, said: “I’m happy with my position (as a Brexiteer) because I’m all about responsibility. People can use the EU as an excuse for not taking responsibility for certain things. It’s great saying Britain will be free to look out and trade in any direction, but how does that work on the ground? We have two years and you need to tell us what you want.”
On the A1, she said: “There’s an understanding that the A1 needs to go from London to Edinburgh as at least two lanes, if not three or four, but we need to make the economic case.”