2018 – a year of opportunity

James Bream, Research and Policy Director at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, looks to 2018 and what it might have in store for enterprise, growth, and young people in Scotland locally, regionally and nationally.

When I was asked by LGIU to submit a start of year piece I was delighted to accept. Of course then the first week back arrives and the writers’ mist falls… When that happens it’s important to remember what the brief was: ’James could you scene set for 2018, talk about enterprise, look forward at opportunities and messages for LG, in 400 words’.

So here goes. Day one and of course there is only opportunity, except for the fact the first letter I open is from a company resigning from the Chamber and worse, relocating to the Netherlands because of a lack of profitable work and ‘the fourfold increase in business rates we experienced this year’. When looking to the future we also look to the past and it is clear the ratings issue will continue to be felt out to 2022 as government support, both local and national, can only provide a partial buffer.

I started to think about the year ahead and new things. Firstly the Year of Young People provides a fantastic platform for the Developing the Young Workforce team here to work even more closely with businesses. We have a genuine opportunity to make engaging with a school or young person something every business should do. If we could deliver that, or get part way there, then surely our future workforce can only be better prepared on their first day at work?

At a practical level we’ll hopefully see some more positive activity in the oil and gas sector later in 2018 (be aware however crystal balls are notoriously bad in this area). Our other sectors are continuing to shine more brightly too.

We’re also pleased that throughout this year we’ll see continued focus from our local authorities on driving forward our Regional Economic Strategy. That is and must continue to be a priority but keeping it there is hard as they face further financial pressure. As a nation it still feels like we are not giving our local authorities the right incentives to encourage economic growth by driving accountability and responsibility at the most local level possible – something that is perhaps still unlikely to happen in 2018.

At a national level we’ll see more practical detail on what the Enterprise and Skills Review actually means. For many that may not be of much interest so the acid test is if businesses actually report it has made life better for them rather than just being an exercise in government reorganisation.

We’ll continue to work up plans for a truly different way of working with partners on international trade. Work has started between Scottish Chambers and public sector partners but there is a way to go for a seamless partnership. At a regional level we want to create a local partnership which meets the needs of our regional businesses and is genuinely different to what has gone before. A big opportunity if it can be realised as we know there are private sector partners out there willing to help.

The final message to local government is to continue to stick to the plan. Boring it may be but it’s what we asked during local elections and said we’d continue to ask for five years. Sticking to the plan isn’t boring when it helps deliver over £9bn of infrastructure related projects benefitting the North-east and transforms our regional economy and the city centre of Aberdeen.

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