Believing in the positives needs positive support!

Author: 
Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

I’ve been looking at the British Chambers of Commerce & DHL Quarterly International Trade Outlook (QITO). In truth, and at a first reading, it reveals some unsettling findings. ‘UK export growth continued to slow at the end of 2015, with manufacturers in particular struggling’ was unwelcome news, as was ‘orders across both manufacturing and services sectors fell significantly in the last quarter of 2015’.

International conditions, not least of which is the slowing down of the economy in China, have contributed to these results.

But, statistics are, well, statistics and sometimes it’s our attitude that matters most. I took great heart from a comment made on the report by John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce. He said: “While the rate of growth has dropped significantly, exports are continuing to grow - a testament to British businesses, particularly in the face of such global uncertainty”.

And it is a testament to British industry that we deliver - often against the odds. It’s certainly true of commerce in our region, which incidentally is not singled out in the report for any significant downward trend.

But, here’s the thing. John Longworth went on to say “However, if we are to reverse our longstanding trade deficit then British firms need greater practical support – access to finance, a skilled workforce and good infrastructure connections – if they are to successfully break into new export markets...”

In seizing on the positives from the report, and taking our attitude into consideration, it struck me that in that one sentiment Mr Longworth had summed up so many of the key issues I’ve highlighted in this column over recent months.

Here in the east we have enormous potential and vast amounts of ‘can do’ spirit. But, to realize our potential it’s essential that we get the support we need in the vital areas of infrastructure, broadband, skills and finance.

Our region embraces a variety of industries, covering manufacturing, agriculture, finance and the service and creative sectors. We have world class businesses, with leading products and services to offer to an international market.

Our ability to ‘buck the trend’ when things get tough has been proved time and again. But we can’t ratchet it up further without support. Practical support. And to that end we need to continue lobbying, raising our profile and heightening awareness of what the East has to offer the national economy.

Wherever the debates about Europe take us there is a job to be done in increasing our exports and widening our customer base. I know from my many conversations with businesses in the region that we have the will. And, as they say, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. The way forward for us is to seize on the positives and make enough noise to combat the talk about Northern Powerhouses and M4 Corridors to make us more visible for a number of economic reasons.

The Chamber is ready as ever to find the nuggets of positivity and act on them. It’s not unreasonable to demand some support for that.

We’re here, in the East, and in with the best.

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