Advisory boards

We work closely with partners to deliver the Strategic Economic Plan

About our advisory boards

In addition to our main Board and Investment Board, we have three advisory boards whose members are responsible for driving delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan. We also have the Technical Officers Group. Members of this group assess new project funding applications, make recommendations on project applications to the board and Investment Board and thereafter monitor the performance of all projects approved by the board.

Business Growth Board

With the aim of driving new thinking around business support services, products and processes for growth and acceleration, the Business Growth Board brings together ambitious business representatives with members of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership Board and representatives from the area’s universities and colleges.

You can read the Business Growth Board Terms of Reference here.

Ammar Mirza CBE

Private sector Board member, Chair of Business Growth Board

A multi-award winning entrepreneur and innovation expert who has helped establish several hundred businesses in the North East.  Ammar is Founder and Chairman of not for profit social enterprise Asian Business Connexions (ABC) and President of the Federation of Asian Business alongside being a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management (FInstLM), and Royal Society of Arts(FRSA).  He has a particular interest in enterprise education as ex-Chair of Governors of a Primary School, Chair of the Progression Forum and a visiting Professor of Practice at Newcastle University, and helped launch the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Project Charity.

Ammar was appointed a CBE in 2014 for outstanding services to Business and the Community, and has been consistently recognised across the UK for his tireless efforts in supporting and promoting trade and industry including British Asian Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019, Maserati top 100 Entrepreneurs, Williams and Glyn top 50, Institute of Directors Special Judges Award, and British Community Honours Award.

Other roles held by Ammar include Chair of the Institute of Directors North East North, Member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for BaME Business, Private Sector Representative on European Structural Funds Advisory Board, Patron of Charlie Bear for Cancer Care Charity at and Founder of the SME Centre of Excellence.

Ammar is the North East LEP Board’s local SME representative.

You can read Ammar’s Register of Interests here.

Kate Wickham

Kate Wickham MBE

Board member

Kate, who in 2017, was recognised with a MBE for services to export and outward investment.

Since being appointed as Managing Director of Gate 7 in 2011, Kate has invested heavily in equipment, expansion and a new purpose-built factory in the USA. The company specialises in the supply of decals and printed components to the construction equipment, agricultural and industrial markets and has global contracts with JCB and Volvo, and European contracts with Komatsu, Bobcat and Kuhn.

You can view Kate’s Register of Interests here.

Business Growth Board

Ryan Maughan

Managing Director of AVID Technology Group Limited

Ryan leads a talented team at AVID, developing technology solutions to improve the efficiency and emissions from vehicles and machinery through smart electrification. He has vast engineering experience in high performance motorsport and precision component manufacturing sectors. Ryan has led acquisitions and disposals of business units to major corporates and also successfully raised business funding across a range of industries including oil and gas, chemical process, defence and electronics manufacturing.

Jane Robinson

Dean for Engagement and Place at Newcastle University

Jane Robinson is Dean for engagement and place at Newcastle University.  Prior to joining Newcastle University, she was Chief Executive of Gateshead Council and played a key role in the establishment of the North East Combined Authority and the development of the Local Enterprise Partnership. She began her career in the cultural sector and pioneered programmes to support the development of the Creative Industries. Throughout her career she has been involved in a wide range of projects and partnerships to support economic and business growth in the North East of England

Tony Bridges

Toby Bridges

CEO of the NBT Group Ltd. Chair of The Exchange North Tyneside, Founding Director of Vytech Solutions Ltd.

An experienced company director, Toby has been CEO of the NBT Group Ltd since 2008. Growing the business from £3m to £14m in three years, this has seen the company attain the North East’s 50 fastest growing companies list 2018. As part of the role, Toby is also the founding director for Vytech Solutions Limited, a technology led business which started in 2014.

As a keen advocate of peer based learning, Toby mentors numerous businesses across the NE. He is a board member of North Tyneside Business Forum and is now a business partner to North Tyneside Council’s Mayor and Cabinet.

Cllr Graeme Miller

Councillor Graeme Miller

Observer, Main Board. Leader of Sunderland City Council

Cllr Miller was appointed Leader of Sunderland City Council in May 2018. He was first elected to the council in 2006 to represent Washington South ward. Before becoming Leader, Cllr Miller was the Cabinet’s portfolio holder for Health, Housing and Adult Services. Cllr Miller is particularly passionate about mental health as the basis for good overall health and wellbeing and he is a Health and Mental Health Champion for the city.

He is chair of Age UK Sunderland and a school governor at John F. Kennedy and George Washington Primary Schools.  He also represents the council and city on a number of bodies and organisations and is chair of the North East Combined Authority Leadership Board, the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) LLP, the Sunderland Outbreak Control Board and a member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

As Leader, Cllr Miller’s focus is continuing to work in partnership on the city’s economic regeneration, building on progress in relation to housing and infrastructure development and skills and employment opportunities.

You can read Councillor Miller’s Register of Interests here.

Darren Laybourn

Board member

Darren Laybourn is a practising Chartered Quantity Surveyor and Director of Construction Management Consultant Turner & Townsend.

Darren has over 32 years’ experience of delivering many of the region’s largest and most complexed Real Estate and Infrastructure programmes.

Alongside this Darren has helped develop Turner & Townsend into one of the region’s largest and most successful Construction Management Consultants.

He currently serves on CBI Regional Board & North East Board Action for Children, as well as being a particularly active member of RICS amongst other member groups.

Darren is passionate about developing people, business and making a difference to the region’s economy and looks forward to assisting the NELEP Growth Board to deliver real results.


Yvonne Gale

Board member

Yvonne Gale is CEO of NEL Fund Managers, a North East impact investment firm where she is responsible for the strategic direction and leadership. Yvonne is a finance specialist passionate about improving  access to finance for small businesses and enabling economic growth. She holds a doctorate in investment decision making, fellowship of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and a membership of the Institute of Economic Development. She advised the UK government Small Business Commissioner on prompt payment for small businesses and the UAE Ministry of Finance-backed, Mohammed bin Rashid AED 2 billion Innovation Fund. She holds several non-executive board and advisory board positions as well as charity trustee roles from very local to highly international.


Paul Butler

Private sector, Business Growth Board Member

Paul Butler joined the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) as Chief Executive Officer in March 2015 and quickly established the NEAA as the leading automotive cluster in the UK. He represents the regions automotive sector on the Automotive Council’s Supply Chain Group, Digitlisation Group and Regional Economic Forum. Paul also represents the NEAA on the European Automotive Clusters Network and is the only UK based Cluster Benchmarking Expert for the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis (ESCA).

Prior to this Paul spent 10 years with the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), has supported the delivery of the UKTI Trade services across the North East, and has previously ran his own publishing business.

Paul has extensive knowledge of the business support environment at both regional, national and international level, and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Durham.

Steve Underwood

Private sector, Business Growth Board Member

Steve Underwood is Managing Partner for Dentsu Aegis, a global marketing services group that employs over 45,000 people across 143 countries, delivering solutions for clients that enable them to succeed in the digital economy. As a member of the northern Dentsu board & leadership team, Steve leads the strategic direction for the largest regional marketing agency outside London, with 800+ team members, across nine agency brands in four locations.

Liz Bromley

Chief Executive, Newcastle College Group

Having worked in other senior roles in education – including at the University of Salford and Goldsmiths, University of London – Liz has also been a board member of the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education, the CBI North West and a governor and trustee of the Sir John Brunner Foundation, among many other non-executive roles.

Colin Bell

Business Growth Director

Skills Advisory Panel

Improving skills in the North East workforce is fundamental to our economic future. We aim to meet the needs of each and every person living in our area. Through our Skills Advisory Panel, we’re working to understand our region’s current and future skills needs and labour market challenges. The Panel includes representatives from the North East LEP, the North East Combined Authority and North of Tyne Combined Authority, universities, colleges and local businesses. The work of the Skills Advisory Panel will feed directly into the development and delivery of our Local Industrial Strategy.

You can read the Skills Advisory Panel Terms of Reference here.

Ellen Thinnesen

Chair of Skills Advisory Panel and LEP Board member

Ellen is Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East as well as Principal and Chief Executive of City of Sunderland College, the largest multi-site College within the North East providing education and training to over 13500 students and apprentices from across the region. Ellen is passionate about social mobility, and during what she describes as her ‘second career’ she has held numerous senior positions within education in Greater Manchester and the Yorkshire and Humber regions. Ellen has also had a long and successful ‘first career’ working within private and public health services across the country. She has also held numerous board positions in the not-for-profit and University sectors within and external to the North East and continues to contribute nationally to help influence education policy and reform.

You can read Ellen’s Register of Interests here.

Michelle Rainbow

Skills Director

As the Skills Director for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Michelle Rainbow’s goal is a bold one. She wants the North East to become a national exemplar for skills, social mobility and inclusivity.

An influential diversity and inclusivity champion, throughout her career Michelle has consistently pioneered an ‘each and every’ approach. Since joining the LEP, she has placed this at the heart of the Strategic Economic Plan and ensured it underpins the Skills agenda so no-one is left behind.

Councillor Simon Henig

Leader of Durham County Council and LEP Board member

Locally, Councillor Henig is Leader of Durham County Council, Chair of the County Durham Partnership and Chair of the Association of North East Councils. Nationally, he is a lead member on the People and Places Board of the Local Government Association and a member of Labour’s National Policy Forum. Councillor Henig is also Principal Lecturer in politics at Sunderland University and an accomplished author on the same subject.

You can read Councillor Henig’s Register of Interests here.

Sir David Bell

Chief Executive, University of Sunderland

Sir David Bell became the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland on 24 September 2018.

Sir David was born in Glasgow in March 1959. Educated at a comprehensive school, he took degrees at the University of Glasgow and obtained his PGCE from Jordanhill College of Education.

In a career spanning over 37 years, Sir David has held a number of major posts across the education system. Between 2012 and 2018, he was Vice-Chancellor at the University of Reading. Previously, he was Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education for six years, serving four Secretaries of State and three Prime Ministers. He also served as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools for nearly four years.

Sir David began his career as a primary school teacher and later became a head teacher. He was Director of Education and Libraries with Newcastle City Council and Chief Executive of Bedfordshire County Council. He was a Harkness Fellow based in Atlanta, Georgia for a year.

Between 1 August 2017 and 31 July 2019, Sir David is Vice President England and Northern Ireland for Universities UK (UUK) as well as a member of the UUK board.

Sir David, who was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2011, is married and has two adult daughters.

Carol Botten

Carol Botten

Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE) LEP Board member

Carol Botten was appointed CEO of VONNE in September 2018 following four years as Deputy CEO. With almost 25 years’ experience in the voluntary and community sector, Carol is passionate about supporting the sector’s leadership and governance capabilities and developing new programmes and projects to increase organisations’ sustainability and resilience.

She currently leads on external policy work with the North East LEP and advises on skills, employability and inclusive growth for the North of Tyne Combined Authority. Carol is a member of Northern Powergrid’s Social Issues Expert Group and Stakeholder Panel, the North East Brexit Group and the Cabinet Office’s National Leadership programme.

Carol is the Board Diversity Champion at the North East LEP.

You can read Carol’s Register of Interests here.

Sarah Glendinning

Sarah Glendinning

Regional Director of CBI

Sarah is Regional Director in the North East for national business organisation the CBI, representing member interests at a local, national and international level.

As part of her role, Sarah is engaged with a number of groups working to improve economic opportunity in the region. She currently represents CBI on the NECA Economic Development and Regeneration Advisory Board works with both regional LEP’s on education and economic projects. She is passionate about raising aspirations in our young people and is involved in a range of diversity initiatives.

Karen Marshall

Programme Leader at Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre.

Karen Marshall currently leads the Degree Apprenticeship and Outreach and Engagement Programmes at Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre. Liaising with delivery partners, schools and key regional digital partners, the programme delivers engagement activities promoting digital careers to 20,000 young people, teachers and parents across the North East each year.

Karen has worked for over 30 years with Digital and Technology companies, supporting strategic collaborations to influence and advise on the development of qualifications, products, services, policies and strategies to address regional skills needs.

Beth Farhat

Regional Secretary of the Northern TUC

Beth Farhat is Regional Secretary of the Northern TUC, representing 58 trade unions in the northern region, which covers the North East and Cumbria.

Beth joined the TUC in 2003 and has had held range of posts within Unionlearn (the TUC’s learning and skills arm). She managed the region’s flagship Learning for All Fund, which was responsible for supporting over 1 million adults in the region back into learning via the union route.

Under Beth’s leadership the Northern TUC coordinate the Better Health at Work Award on behalf of the North East and Cumbria which currently has over 370 employers and their 230,000 employees engaged in the workplace health and wellbeing programme aimed to improve public health and tackle health inequality.

Beth is also on the board of Directors for Youth Focus North East.

Sandra Brydon

Operations and Partnerships Manager for the Department for Work and Pensions

Sandra is a Senior Operations and Partnerships Manager for the Department for Work and Pensions, covering Northumberland, Tyne & Wear. Having originally worked in the finance sector, she became a Civil Servant in 1990, and has spent the majority of that time working with external partners at both strategic and local level to help employers fill their vacancies, and to improve support and join up services for DWP customers, giving them the best chance of securing work.

Emma Banks

Head of Ramarketing

With over 20 years experience in the industry and with a focus on clinical research, you could say Emma Banks knows a thing or two about the global pharmaceutical and life sciences contract services sector.

Emma began work in medical research having earned a PhD in Immunology from the University of Liverpool. After two years of post-doctoral research, Emma went on to join small biometrics CRO, Quanticate, leading the data management team.

Having been a board member of the Society of Clinical Data Management (SCDM) and taken the role of conference co-chair for it’s annual conference in the USA, Emma has developed a strong reputation amongst the industry.

A seasoned conference speaker, Emma’s insights have been covered both nationally and internationally at Biofocus and Precision Medicine conferences in the UK and SCDM in both Europe and the US.

Today, Emma heads up ramarketing, a specialist PR, digital and design agency, for research and development, manufacturing, packaging and technology companies operating in the global biotech and pharmaceutical outsourcing sector.

An advocate of both the life sciences sector and the North East, in her spare time, Emma is a non-executive board member of Bionow and is involved with a number of groups who are working to improve understanding of both sector challenges as well as those surrounding employability and skills.

Helen Golightly

Helen Golightly

Chief Executive

Helen has been with the North East LEP since 2012, and the Chief Executive Officer since 2015. As the senior executive at the LEP, Helen leads the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan, working with partners to grow the local economy. Her previous experience includes over twenty years in a number of local government roles in planning, regeneration, economic development and corporate governance. She has extensive programme and fund management experience with responsibility for delivering a wide range of programmes and commercial negotiations.

You can read Helen’s Register of Interests here.

John Taylor

Department for Education (ESFA)

John leads the Education and Skills Funding Agency territorial team responsible for North East and Cumbria working with colleges and post 16 providers across the region. The team is also responsible for implementation of a range of DfE policies including T Levels and devolution of the adult education budget to North of Tyne Mayoral Combined Authority.

Niamh Corcoran

North East Chamber of Commerce, Policy Adviser

Niamh Corcoran is a Policy Adviser for the North East England Chamber of Commerce and focuses on Education, Skills and Employment in the North East. She joined the Chamber in February 2020.

Niamh’s work is part of the Chamber’s campaign to build a stronger North East in which everybody has access to high quality training and career opportunities and can contribute to our economy.

The North East England Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership organisation in the North East, representing over 3000 members, including large employers and skills providers.

Karen Routledge

Independent Learning Providers representative

Although Karen started her career in the charity sector she has worked in the education sector for almost 40 years starting with leading Sunderland Council’s Study Support Team supporting schools to implement Out of Hours Learning and Extended Schools programmes across the City.

This progressed into her own education consultancy which she ran for 12 years leading on several education projects including those for the Training and Development Agency, education charities,  and many local authorities nationally. She was also a Critical Friend for Canterbury Christ Church University QISS Programme.

For the last 10 years she has been known for her work in the engineering apprenticeship and training sector initially with Rolls-Royce and now with Sunderland Engineering Training Association.   She an Enterprise Advisor for both Sandhill View and Southmoor Schools and sits on the Management Board of the North East Learning Providers Network.

John McCabe

LEP Board member and Skills Advisory Panel member

In 2013 John McCabe founded the strategic communications agency Fusion, subsequently growing and diversifying the business while creating new jobs.

Prior to setting up his own business, John held senior positions with some of the North East’s largest organisations.  From 2002 until 2013 John was corporate affairs director and later regional economic development director at Rio Tinto Alcan. There, he was responsible for the company’s relationships and engagement across the British, Scottish and Welsh governments and the institutions of the European Union. He participated in numerous international trade bodies, government working groups and think tanks, specialising in industrial and energy policy.

John is past president of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, a development committee member at The Prince’s Trust and is a trustee of Millfield House Foundation, the charity that works with strategic partners to fund policy development aimed at reducing poverty and inequality in the region.  As well as being a private sector board member John sits on the North East LEP’s skills advisory panel.

You can read John’s Register of Interests here.

Paul Butler

Private sector, Business Growth Board Member

Paul Butler joined the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) as Chief Executive Officer in March 2015 and quickly established the NEAA as the leading automotive cluster in the UK. He represents the regions automotive sector on the Automotive Council’s Supply Chain Group, Digitlisation Group and Regional Economic Forum. Paul also represents the NEAA on the European Automotive Clusters Network and is the only UK based Cluster Benchmarking Expert for the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis (ESCA).

Prior to this Paul spent 10 years with the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), has supported the delivery of the UKTI Trade services across the North East, and has previously ran his own publishing business.

Paul has extensive knowledge of the business support environment at both regional, national and international level, and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Durham.

Chris Zarraga

Schools North East, Director

Chris has been part of the Schools North East team since its inception in 2007 and in 2019 he was appointed Director.

Chris works with other leaders across the North East, the education sector and charity sector to represent the voice of North East schools, and lobby policy makers to ensure that the North East is not left behind when it comes to education policy. Chris has overseen the launch of the Ednorth evidence-based excellence programme, as well as the partnership with SHINE bringing over £500,000 worth of funding to North East schools.

Under Chris, Schools North East has moved to a greater focus on lobbying around education policy, with the launch of the Manifesto for North East Education in December 2019. As well as being a trustee of a local MAT, Chris sits on various boards including the board for Opportunity North East. Prior to joining Schools North East, Chris worked with over 165 schools in the North East and various education organisations including local authorities, Excellence Partnerships, 14-19 Groups, the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust, and School Improvement Officers. He led a large scale culture change project in education across the North East and was the development consultant for the LEGI funded Wansbeck Enterprise Education Network.

Amanda Venner

NHS Interim Deputy Director of Workforce for the Integrated Care System

Sam Harrison

Rep for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Sector. Also works for Sterling Pharma Solutions

Cllr Joyce McCarty

Representative for the North of Tyne Combined Authority

Councillor Joyce McCarty was first elected to the Council in a by-election in July 1994 and became Deputy Leader of the Opposition in May 2007. Since 2011 when Labour took over the administration of the city she has been Deputy Leader of the Council. From May 2019, the Resources portfolio has been added.

Joyce works closely with the leader on strategic planning, transport and economic issues. Her main responsibility is to ensure that the Council works in the interests of fairness, tackling inequalities and promoting equality. Her leadership on financial inclusion is well regarded by partners across the sector in the city. Alongside partner organisations, Joyce is leading the city’s response to the impact of welfare reform on the residents of the city.

Joyce was born and brought up on Tyneside and has lived in the west end of the city for over 30 years. She worked in local government as a school improvement officer following a career as a teacher and is now retired.

Innovation Board

Our innovation priorities are about matching what’s needed with what’s possible – to create, progress and deliver economic value and social development. The Innovation Board brings together local and national innovation expertise and know-how.

You can read the Innovation Board Terms of Reference here.  The Innovation Strategic Steering Group Terms of Reference can be read here.

Gillian Hall

Chair of Innovation Board, member of Investment Board

Gillian is a highly respected contributor to private and public sector organisations through various non-executive roles (including Harbour Commissioner at the Port of Blyth), her corporate finance consultancy business and mentoring for growth. Gillian was the first female Senior Partner at Watson Burton LLP, a national law firm with offices in Newcastle, Leeds and London, and before that, led the firm’s corporate team for many years.

You can read Gillain’s Register of Interests here.

Tony Appleton

Innovation Board Member

Tony is a Chartered Mechanical Engineering with over 10 years experience in the Offshore Renewables sector and over 20 years experience in the power / energy sector having worked for some major organisations including Rolls Royce, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Balfour Beatty.  Tony now runs his own consultancy business supporting companies in the Offshore and Interconnection sectors (globally).

Richard Baker

Strategy and Policy Director

Estelle Blanks

Executive Director, Innovation SuperNetwork

With over 20 years’ experience in economic development through regeneration and innovation in the North East of England and working across the UK and in Europe, Estelle has a thorough understanding of the national and local innovation eco-system, has influenced innovation programmes and attracted funding to support early stage and growing companies. Since November 2017, Estelle has led the successful Women in Innovation programme aimed to support business growth by addressing barriers linked to unconscious bias and lack of diversity. Prior to joining, the Innovation SuperNetwork, Estelle was the Deputy Director of Newcastle Science City working on large scale programmes aimed to develop high-growth companies. Estelle also ran transnational projects aimed at training European incubators in supporting innovative companies and authored a number of research articles and work programmes on high-growth business coaching.

Dr Nicola Wesley

Innovation Board Member

Dr Nicola Wesley, Chief Operations Officer

Since gaining a PhD in Chemistry from Durham University, Nicola has worked in a variety of roles supporting business and industry in the North East. She worked as a Programme Manager and then Head of NHS Innovations North East before taking up the position as Innovation Director at the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria in 2013. In 2017, Nicola changed her role to Chief Operations Officer of the AHSN where she is responsible for overseeing the operational aspects of the business. In addition, she is also responsible for developing strategies to mobilise the unique assets of our regional NHS in support of economic growth. These activities enable companies to access bespoke services from NHS organisations leading to the co-creation and adoption, of new and improved, products and services.

Professor Michael Capaldi

Dean of Innovation and Business

Michael is the Dean of Innovation and Business at Newcastle University.  He trained as a medical biophysicist, moving into industry in 1984, initially in research and development before moving into commercial roles and then into general management.

Half of his 26-year career in industry has been spent working for large multinationals such as Ciba-Geigy, SmithKline Beecham and Nycomed Amersham, while the other half has been spent in entrepreneurial roles as chief executive of small venture-backed high-tech and biotech companies.  He has raised more than £60m of funding for SMEs, listed two companies on the stock exchange and had his fair share of M&A activity.  In 2010 he started working with universities to help accelerate their impact agendas, taking up the position of Dean with Newcastle University in 2018.

Councillor Nick Forbes

Leader of Newcastle City Council

Nick Forbes is a Labour politician and became Leader of Newcastle City Council in 2011.

Nick has made economic growth a key feature of his council, securing new financial powers by negotiating one of the first round of City Deals with government and has been instrumental in securing a devolution deal for the North of Tyne. He has played a leading role in raising the profile of local government in a time of austerity and has been involved in national lobbying efforts for successive local government finance settlements.

Current roles include Vice Chair of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, Vice Chair of the Core Cities Cabinet and Business Competitiveness portfolio holder for the North of Tyne Combined Authority.

At a national level, Nick is the Leader of Labour in local government, heading up the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group, representing the views of more than 6000 Labour Councillors in Westminster. He is currently Senior Vice Chair of the LGA. He is also a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committe.

You can read Councillor Forbes’ Register of Interests here.

Helen Golightly

Helen Golightly

Chief Executive

Helen has been with the North East LEP since 2012, and the Chief Executive Officer since 2015. As the senior executive at the LEP, Helen leads the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan, working with partners to grow the local economy. Her previous experience includes over twenty years in a number of local government roles in planning, regeneration, economic development and corporate governance. She has extensive programme and fund management experience with responsibility for delivering a wide range of programmes and commercial negotiations.

You can read Helen’s Register of Interests here.

Dr Colin Herron

Innovation Board Member

Dr Colin Herron has over 40 years’ experience in the automotive sector working for a first tier supplier and 17 years with Nissan. After being seconded to the RDA by Nissan,Colin joined the RDA and stayed with it until leaving in 2011 to create Zero Carbon Futures, a consultancy subsidiary of Gateshead College specialising in Electric vehicle and associate technologies. A member of the Newcastle city futures group, NEAA advisory board and the IET National Manufacturing Policy Panel. Working with several universities and a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University.

Patrick Melia

Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council

Patrick is driven by a desire to ensure the delivery of high quality services that enable residents to live healthy and independently economic lives, safely in their communities.

He understands that strong partnerships across the public, business and voluntary and communities sectors, with everyone working to a common goal, are fundamental to this.

Patrick is committed to leading a significant change programme within Sunderland City Council to ensure that it delivers outstanding services for residents and that Sunderland continues to be a great place for residents to live, for businesses to thrive and for visitors to enjoy.

His priorities for the city include major physical regeneration of the City Centre to create a vibrant place for people to live, work and visit and to create more jobs for people in the local community.
Patrick was previously Chief Executive with North Tyneside Council, where he utilised his extensive record on delivering major projects, involving multiple partnerships, by providing leadership for the transformation of the 13 hectares of prime Enterprise Zone land at Swans into a hub for the offshore, renewable energy and advanced engineering sectors.  To provide around 1,000 new jobs for the North East and the delivery of the North Tyneside Seafront Master Plan, including investment of £36m into the coastal area, ultimately bringing the much loved iconic Spanish City back to life.
Patrick, who secured a Masters in Business Administration at Durham University’s Business School has previously held roles at Board-level in Police, Probation and the Health Sector and is Chair of a Multi Academy Trust.

Lee Viney

Regional Manager at Innovate UK

Lee is Regional Manager at Innovate UK for Yorkshire & Humber and the North East.

Lee joined Innovate UK from the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership following a career in public sector economic development. Lee’s experience has mainly been in early stage enterprise development, innovation and commercialisation, with cross policy links into skills, trade and investment and business finance.

Alan Welby

Innovation Director
Professor Michael Whitaker

Professor Michael Whitaker

Innovation Board Member

Michael was educated in Cambridge and moved to the North East of England in 1994 via a chair at University College London.

From 2000, Michael was closely involved in forming and delivering the North East regional strategy in the Healthcare and Life Science areas, particularly in the areas of ageing, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. He coordinates the regional pharma manufacturing initiative, First for Pharma. He is a Fellow of the Society of Biology, the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and of the Academy of Medical Sciences.  In addition he is a board member of Centre for Excellence in Life Sciences (Bionow), the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and a trustee and Fellow of the Marine Biological Association.  He is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Centre for Process Industries, a subsidiary of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. He is managing director of a community interest company, HealthyLife Sim CIC, that raises awareness of the causes, consequences and remedies for health inequalities, particularly in disadvantaged communities.  He is a governor of North East Futures University Technical College; the new school has a focus on Healthcare & Life Sciences and Digital & Computing.  He is Chair of its Education Committee and is working with teachers and employers to develop an academic curriculum that brings to students relevance to the world of work.

Michael is emeritus Professor of Physiology in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University.

The Strategic Economic Plan is being delivered through our focus areas

View our focus areas here