Reflection on Norfolk Economy

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

In all of the years I have worked with Westminster, I have never seen such a frenzy of activity leading into Parliament's summer recess. Ministers, quite rightly chastised by the Chamber network and others on the need for a growth strategy, have over the past few weeks unleashed a vast array of announcements designed explicitly to demonstrate that they're "doing something".

Over the past few of weeks, we've had announcements on business lending, aviation strategy, rail investment, infrastructure guarantees, and regulatory reform.  Look a little more closely, though, and you’ll find the solid-seeming building blocks are in fact a bit of a Potemkin village. Many announcements are, in fact, re-announcements. Still others are unlikely to ever make the leap from paper to the real economy.

However it is great to see our local MPs working together with the business community and helping to ensure that our voice is getting heard right in the heart of government. Sometime you have to look at the small print as to what is relevant to us in the new announcements, but Norfolk is definitely positioning itself more effectively and at last Ministers seem to know where Norfolk is on the map. The Norfolk Chamber and its members will continue to lobby to be heard.

Do you agree with my assessment of Norfolk's economy?

As we settle in to a feast of Olympic achievement and spectacle it seems a good time to reflect on how Norfolk’s economy is doing and how the business community feel about things.

In a recent survey relating to the first few months of this year collated by the British Chambers of Commerce and including Norfolk Chamber members, the results showed that Norfolk businesses were growing, but the pace was sluggish and not what we would like to see to ensure a sustainable economic recovery. Although these results were not a great surprise, it was disappointing that our businesses are finding it so tough.

Domestic sales were fairly static but many of our manufacturing exporters did not show the increase in sales that have been seen elsewhere in the UK. Having said that, our energy exporters are showing strong outputs and the Chamber’s export documentation department has been very busy. Businesses trading internationally within the service industry are having a better time of it.

The turmoil in Europe around the Eurozone continues to affect business in Norfolk, with both the manufacturing and service sectors reporting heightened concerns regarding exchange rates and what may happen in the future.  Inflation was also an uncertain factor, with 37% of all Norfolk firms reporting this is a considerable concern to them. These concerns result in a dent in confidence which in turns reduces investment in training, plant and machinery.

However Norfolk businesses are not ready to be beaten and although their reported confidence is still lower than pre-recession level in 2007, there is still a real determined attitude within the business community that they will do whatever they need to do to be successful and grow their businesses and that means taking hold of every possible opportunity.

Do you agree with my assessment of Norfolk's economy?

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