WITH no elections and no referendums planned for the year ahead – as far as we know – the focus this year must be on growing national and regional economies.

Chambers across the Scottish network will continue to deliver of practical business growth support in a wide range of guises. This includes building on the excellent progress in addressing skills shortages through the Developing the Young Workforce programme and driving greater levels of internationalisation to boost sluggish export statistics.

International trade is disproportionately important to businesses in the North-east and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce certified around 14,000 export documents last year, helping businesses get goods worth $678m safely to their destination markets.

As the overall shape of future trade relations between the UK and the EU emerges from the Brexit negotiations, we will continue to work closely with our colleagues at the British Chambers of Commerce to help shape the content of the deal; advocating business priorities, notably securing labour supply and continued ease of passage for goods and services. Additionally, we will carefully monitor progress, supply information and provide a channel for members to have their opinions heard by politicians.

Our success in securing business rates reliefs worth over £20m was good news for companies in the hospitality and office sectors in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire but this simply papers over the cracks of a system which is not fit for purpose. Some of the outcomes of the Barclay Review are to be welcomed, however there is still much to be done and this will remain at the forefront of our lobbying activities.

We will also continue to lead on winning full 5G pilot roll-out status for North-east Scotland; work for change in the apprenticeship levy application in Scotland and campaign for meaningful reform of the planning system, supporting individual members on applications that are key to the future of our region.

The next 12 months are vital if we are to continue the momentum that has been built towards redefining and diversifying the North-east economy and the refreshed Regional Economic Strategy and narrative will underpin this.

A number of major infrastructure projects- including the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route- are due for completion in 2018 with others well underway or in the pipeline and we are confident the excellent progress seen with City Region Deal-related projects will be maintained.

Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber and the wider network of Chambers across the country are uniquely positioned to influence and deliver on all of these things and more. However, as a group of privately funded, not-for-profit organisations we need enlightened businesses to join and actively engage with us to ensure our continued strength and sustainability.

Russell Borthwick is chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce