The North East Chamber of Commerce has written to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Budget on 6 March calling for action across five key pillars to support the region.

Chamber chief executive John McCabe highlights key asks across enterprise and growth; people and work; education and participation; an international North East; and green innovation.

John McCabe said: “We have recently launched our new policy plan designed to drive a stronger and fairer North East. Across five key pillars, we have outlined the practical action regional and national policy makers can take to support a thriving, resilient North East. Our submission builds on these important priorities for the region.”

Despite 2023 Quarterly Economic Surveys showing that business confidence is improving, the Chamber highlights that inflation is still significantly above the Bank of England’s 2% target.

On behalf of more than 2,000 members across the region, the submission makes the case for reforming and reviewing business rates policy to support North East businesses directly, as well as committing to multi-year funding settlements to provide councils and other public agencies with long-term financial certainty.

The Chamber’s calls also include a commitment to the Leamside Line, the Metro expansion which was notably absent from the government’s major set of rail announcements at the end of last year, and a wholesale review of the further education funding and qualification landscape to make up for the 5% real terms cut in funding since 2010.

John McCabe said: “We recognise that the business rates system continues to be one of the biggest brakes on local growth, therefore we are supporting the British Chambers of Commerce’s call for annual revaluations alongside fundamental reform.”

The Northern Echo: Chancellor Jeremy HuntChancellor Jeremy Hunt (Image: Newsquest)

He added: “A commitment in full to the delivery of the Leamside Line upgrade remains a key priority for the region. This new light rail infrastructure will generate over £90million per year in economic benefits to the North East, create increased capacity on the East Coast Main Line and form the basis of a Washington metro link. Businesses need certainty on this crucial piece of transport infrastructure now.”

The letter repeats calls for health-related incentives for employers to support older workers to stay in the workforce and the need for greater flexibility to use Apprenticeship Levy funding for regional benefit.

Trade interventions also feature strongly in the Chamber’s call. With exports and imports estimated to be worth £29billion to the North East in 2023, international trade remains a key priority for Chamber members. The Budget letter includes calls for targeted funding and support for SMEs to grow capacity and capability to trade, and timely and clear guidance from government on forthcoming changes in legislation and policy.

The Chamber has also welcomed the government’s recent guidance on securing a strong employer voice at the heart of devolution, mentioning Chambers of Commerce specifically as candidates for providing strong business representation and an effective employer voice as mayoral arrangements evolve across England.

John McCabe said: “The North East is the ideal place to invest in the creation or growth of business. In recent years, we have created more jobs through inward investment than any other English region outside of London. Investment in the North East is a down payment on future growth and prosperity. Taken together, our calls on the government this spring could play a major role in driving a stronger, fairer North East for us all.”

The Budget, or Financial Statement, is a statement made to the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the nation’s finances and the government’s proposals for changes to taxation, and includes forecasts for the economy by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The Chamber continues to ensure the needs of North East businesses are a key priority for the Treasury.

The Chamber recently launched Stronger, Fairer North East: A Strategy for Change, which is based on contributions from across its 2,000 strong network of members.

The strategy includes practical actions leaders and businesses can take in partnership to deliver fair and inclusive growth for the North East and the UK, and outlines how the Chamber will measure success by 2025.