By Russell Borthwick

As we start to think about 2020 drawing to a close, for most people and businesses the last few months is a period that will forever be consigned into the "wish that had been a nightmare but woke up to find it was real" category.

We really are at the most significant crossroads of our lifetime. Decisions taken now and in the following months by policy-makers will determine whether or not we recover quickly from the shock of Covid-19 or whether we end up swapping this for years of different physical and mental health, and social and economic challenges that will dwarf those seen so far.

We can rebuild, but what will it take? Firstly, red tape has to be cut and real pace introduced.

The Advisory Group for Economic Recovery highlighted a fundamental disjoint and lack of trust between business and government and this has been exacerbated by the handling of the crisis. Bridges need to be built and enterprise agencies, Chambers of Commerce and other similar organisations are ideally placed to help do this. Only partnership in its truest sense will enable our economy to recover and realise its potential.

Investment must be prioritised where there will be a demonstrable return, not frittered on propping up economic blackspots. Specifically the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund cannot simply allocate funding on the same principles as its ERDF predecessor.

And neither should Holyrood be the termination point of devolved powers from UK government. Meaningful fiscal levers must be given to regions in order to drive a place-based recovery. The north-east of Scotland has proved time and again that it will deliver a strong return on investment made here as evidenced by the outstanding progress made with the city region deal projects.

Alongside our own regional journey to net zero, Aberdeen can become a net exporter to the world of net-zero technologies. We need our governments to give their backing to confirm this as the country’s key energy transition hub and for them to underpin the intent with the necessary investment. We already have the £62 million commitment from the Scottish Government and this needs to be echoed from Westminster in the long-awaited North Sea sector deal. This will be a game-changer.

We must protect and enhance the transport services which are vital to our economic prospects and have been put severely at risk by the events of 2020. So it’s important our voice is heard by the DfT’s Regional Air Connectivity Review and that we stop talking and start delivering on sub-two-hour rail connections from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen and then on the decarbonisation of our railways by 2035.

On the subject of connectivity, despite pockets of positive progress, for large swathes of our regional population and business community access to ultrafast broadband remains a pipe dream, not helped by the legal wrangling over the R100 rural broadband programme. We need to see a clear and urgent timeline for playing catch up.

And there needs to be a real focus on ensuring our next generation have the inspiration, opportunity and skills to play their part in our new economy. The Developing the Young Workforce initiative is being significantly expanded, enabling greater levels of engagement with regional businesses to provide enhanced outcomes for our young people.

As in any challenging period, businesses and places that come out the other end most strongly are those that adapt and innovate while not losing sight of their core strengths and strategy. We all need to do our bit to make sure this is true of our city region.

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