IT'S hard to believe we are moving into the final quarter of 2017.

Summer seemed to come and go this year.

You'd be forgiven if you missed it altogether and suddenly we're hurtling towards the end of the year.

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And what a year it has been.

Like many manufacturing leaders, I feel we enter the final quarter in a position of political uncertainty.

Brexit plans remain something of a mystery, and like others, though I'm not often a passive leader, this is one issue we'll just need to watch and wait... for now at least.

It seems we will end the year in the same hiatus in which we started 2017.

So what can we do in the meantime, while we wait it out for May and co to deliver Britain's exit from EU membership?

There are constants that run through business that impact on our ability to succeed.

One is collaboration and I firmly believe that businesses need to work together and support each other as we look to protect the region's manufacturing sector from the risks it is exposed to as a result of Brexit.

Part of that working together has to be the whole region thinking about - and actively addressing - the skills needs of the region.

The more highly-skilled, efficient and effective our people in this part of the world, the more difficult it will be for international customers to do business anywhere else, whatever the trade terms we secure in Brexit.

And as a Japanese business, one of the key principles Nifco subscribes to is Kaizen - the concept of continuous improvement.

We believe that - by taking small steps and making often tiny tweaks to the way we do things - we can make a big difference to the bottom line.

It's about always striving to do better - to be better.

External factors like Brexit have a huge impact on business, it would be foolish to suggest otherwise, but as we enter the final three months of 2017, I'd urge businesses to look inward, to reflect on their performance so far this year and to make changes to improve.

No business is perfect.

In fact, most will easily be able to identify ways to improve if they look closely at their practices.

It's these micro-efficiencies that make the biggest difference.

During uncertain times, we must challenge ourselves.

We have to ensure we are on the best possible footing to succeed, whatever conditions our departure from the EU creates.

I'd urge businesses to look at how they can make themselves more effective, efficient and performance-focused as we move towards 2018.

Mike Matthews is managing director of Eaglescliffe-based car parts maker Nifco UK