With businesses unlocking, Covid restrictions easing and more freedoms coming our way, now is a wonderful opportunity for the Tees region to use the investments it was given in the Budget to harness a buoyant economy and really make its mark, says commercial law expert Tony Wentworth.
The announcements by chancellor Rishi Sunak of a Teesside freeport and Treasury North in Darlington made it probably the best ever Budget day for the Tees region.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the hard work starts here if the region is to truly feel the benefits of the wave of good news.
“It’s a really exciting time,” said Tony Wentworth, partner and head of corporate and commercial at Stockton-based Jacksons Law Firm.
“As regards market changes, I really can’t see locally that things will get worse in the coming months and years. In fact, I’m very hopeful that they will only get better.”
Tony, who specialises in management buyout and mergers, can see no underlying economic recession and feels that the economy is still fairly solid.
Speaking to Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on the Jacksons-sponsored Talking Business online Q&A, he said: “There is the unpicking of Brexit and some consequences flowing through, but it’s more a work-around issue rather than a suppression of the economy.”
Indeed, Tony, who has been with Jacksons Law Firm for 36 years, was upbeat about the opportunities being afforded to the region.
“With the local investment including Treasury North and the freeport, I think that the Teesside economy is showing all the signs of being buoyant for years to come.
“We’ve been given fantastic foundations to expand on. With the freeport, tax breaks, planning consent breaks and customs breaks, it ought to make business easier for local firms, but it’s up to these local businesses and the private sector to make the most of the opportunity and to make the most of what’s been given to us in terms of a leg up – to really run with it and take best advantage of it.
“We can’t say in a few years that nobody gave us a chance because we have been given a chance and it’s up to us what we do with it.”
Despite the last 12 months being difficult for most businesses in the Tees region, Saltburn-born Tony can see that there have been some positives from the Covid situation, especially when it comes to new technology.
“We’ve all had to build up our online presence,” he admitted. “We’ve done digitally in 12 months what would have taken 12 years.
“A year ago here at Jacksons, we still typed everything on paper and stuck it in a file. Now we have a paperless system which will be there forever. The digital skills we have all had to learn have been invaluable.”
Tony remembers clearly the day in March 2020 when we first went into lockdown.
“Literally overnight the whole economy was locked down and we had about a month where everything went dead and everybody was trying to find their feet and get a handle on what was going on, but within a month it all came back to life and it was full steam ahead.
“Obviously the market has had its ups and downs, with sectors such as manufacturing and healthcare understandably doing better than usual.
“The underlying strength and demand has always been there, except in those sectors where they weren’t able to service their customers, such as high street retail and leisure.”
Today, with the business community beginning to get back to some semblance of normality, Tony and the staff at Jacksons Law Firm are looking forward to being back in the office together once more.
“The majority of our staff are desperate to get back into the office because it can be soul destroying walking from your desk to your bedroom and back at the end of the day,” he said.
“People want and need social interaction. On the flip side of that, a lot of people have benefited from being at home, so I think the flexibility of how we work and where we work is here to stay.
“I don’t think offices will become obsolete. You still need the office environment, not only for social reasons but because there are certain aspects of business that you need to be in for.
“How can we train the next generation of professional people if we are all sat in our kitchens working? People lean by osmosis, by sitting next to someone and seeing how they interact with clients and imitating that.
“The lessons I think we’ve learnt from Covid are flexibility, understanding and optimism. If we have these as we move forward, we will be in a good place.”
• Talking Business is sponsored by Jacksons Law Firm, an award-winning law firm that’s been working with business owners and private clients to help them achieve their goals, in Teesside and beyond, for more than 140 years.