Chamber of Commerce calls for ‘John Cabot spirit’ in 2013

James Durie

James Durie

The prospect of the double dip recession becoming a triple-dip one is enough to make many of us batten down the hatches.

But here, James Durie, who is Executive Director of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative and a leading figure in the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), argues it is the time for the Bristol, and surrounding business community, to adopt some of the ‘John Cabot spirit’.

Here is a summary of what James had to say.

Predictions and resolutions

“The turn of each New Year is traditionally the time for predictions and resolutions, and no doubt many pundits will warn of another year of next to nothing growth and ever tightening belts.

“Even for those businesses bucking the trend, funding growth will undoubtedly be difficult, with lenders so risk averse and confidence fragile.

“But while it’s important to stay realistic about our prospects, I actually see 2013 as a ‘cup half full’ sort of year.”

Reasons to be cheerful?

James comments: “Well here are three for starters, Bristol, and the surrounding area, already has one of the best economies in the UK with an extraordinarily diverse business base: a great platform to build on.

“We have a new, independent elected Mayor (in Bristol) in place who is business-friendly and committed to a sustainable growth agenda.

“And (last but not least) we have the one number ranked Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which is now being given real resources to help drive and stimulate private sector growth.”

Less public sector dependance

He continues: “The fact that the Bristol city region is less dependent on the public sector (where cuts continue) also gives us a head start over other parts of the country as the private sector works hard to replace the jobs being lost.

“But as tempting as it is to compare our performance with other regional UK cities, competition also lies increasingly with other cities and regions around Europe and further afield.”

In good shape

Look closer at the current situation, and there are even more grounds for optimism, James says:  “The macro-economic picture masks the true situation of many businesses in the city and region actually coming though the recession in quite good shape.

“This is largely because they are in the knowledge-based sectors where growth is actually occurring, and because they are looking at a global market rather than a UK or Eurozone one.

“Talk to businesses such as Hydrock, Tastetech and Xmos and they’ll tell you about expanding order books and growing work forces.

“Of course, you say, it’s a lot easier for the bigger businesses to contemplate the risks and sheer hard work of breaking into overseas markets.

“But that bedrock of smaller businesses isn’t excluded from the “club”. The Government and Bristol Chamber’s commitment to encouraging exports means that there’s a big team of UK Trade & Investment support staff all around the world and an award winning International trade team in your local chambers of commerce.”

Sustainable growth

James continues: “Naturally, good sustainable growth right across Bristol, Bath and the South West is what we all want to see: a situation where every business can benefit.

“Achieving that means thinking long term – and here we see several major challenges ahead.

“First of all, we do need to resolve, once and for all, the public transport issue in our city region.

“Secondly, the city region still has a big job to do to ensure it has a workforce with the skills needed for the years ahead.

“Again, we’re seeing employers, colleges, universities and academies talking and working together on what a future skills set looks like – we want to see that agenda move quickly now.

“We also want to see bold decisions taken on major developments such an Arena, our football stadia, a museum for Concorde, our bid to be European Green Capital in 2015 and private investment proceed on Bristol Port and Bristol Airport.”

To conclude

James concludes: “There was a time when to be “connected” meant having ships in your harbour plying trade with the rest of the world.

“Pioneers such as Cabot and visionaries like Brunel opened the region up to the trade opportunities beyond these shores… arguably we’ve become just a little complacent and comfortable in recent decades and we need to encourage more of that pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit come to the fore once again, and open up new business frontiers.”