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.

Mark Thompson

Private sector, LEP Board Member

Mark Thompson is managing partner of Ryder Architecture, where he is responsible for the strategic development of the highly successful design company with offices across the UK and a growing international portfolio from offices in Hong Kong and Vancouver.

You can read Mark’s Register of Interests here.

Ammar Mirza CBE

Private sector, LEP Board Member

A multi-award winning entrepreneur who has helped establish several hundred businesses in the North East.  Ammar is Founder and Chairman of Asian Business Connexions 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 Chair of Governors of a Primary School, Chair of the Progression Forum and a visiting Professor of Practice at Newcastle University, and having helped launch the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Project Charity.

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

You can read Ammar’s Register of Interests here.

Kate Wickham

Kate Wickham

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.

Tom Frater

Tom Frater

Policy Team Leader of the Government’s Cities and Local Growth Unit

Tom is a Policy Team Leader in the Gateshead office of the Government’s Cities and Local Growth Unit. Tom works on Devolution, Local Growth and Northern Powerhouse matters. Tom completed the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2016, having worked with the Department for Transport, UK Visas and Immigration in the Home Office and the Regional Growth Fund, as well as a digital strategy secondment to the charity Leap: Confronting Conflict. Before joining the Civil Service, Tom qualified as a solicitor with Hogan Lovells International LLP, with experience of judicial review and commercial litigation. He also spent six months on secondment to the consumer credit legal team at Lloyds Banking Group.

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

Dr Marie Wilson

Deputy Regional Director for Department for International Trade

Marie is a Newcastle University materials engineering graduate of Finnish origin.  Her early career was in contract R&D followed by technical project management and consultancy in the materials engineering and oil and gas sectors. She has worked in Sweden, London and Glasgow (during which time she completed a PhD at Strathclyde University). She returned to the North East to work in various Government economic development roles, initially for the Department for Trade and Industry (BIS). Posts have included leading/managing Innovation Policy and various business support funding (R&D/Universities and ERDF) programmes. A secondment to Newcastle University, supporting the development of Newcastle Science City was followed by a short period as North East Policy lead for the Department of Culture Media and Sports (including roles in  Creative Industries, Visitor Economy and 2012 Olympics). Marie is currently the Deputy Regional Director for Department for International Trade (initially UKTI) in the North East as part of the Department’s Northern Powerhouse team.

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.

Councillor Peter Jackson

Leader of Northumberland County Council

Peter was elected as Leader of Northumberland County Council in May 2017. He has been a local councillor for more than 20 years, holding positions including Leader of the former Castle Morpeth Borough Council.

Peter has taken on other roles including representing Northumberland on the Local Government Association and was a Board Member of One NorthEast for five years.

He lives in the Ponteland area and runs his own business in agriculture. He is Chairman of Tynegrain, the largest agricultural cooperative in the North East.

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

Cllr Graeme Miller

Councillor Graeme Miller

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 where he is also school governor. 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 a member of City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust’s Council of Governors and Chair of Age UK Sunderland. He also represents the council and city on a number of bodies and organisations including the North East Combined Authority Leadership Board and 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.

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.

Andrew Hodgson


Andrew has held Chief Executive positions in the energy and subsea sectors, and has been awarded three Queen’s Awards for Industry.

He joined the North East LEP board in 2011 and took over as Chair in 2016, where he works to help drive forward the vision of the North East Strategic Economic Plan to create 100,000 more jobs, and works with key stakeholders to ensure the region’s economy is strengthened.

He also chairs the North East Skills Advisory Panel, is a trustee for the International Centre for Life and the Northern Education Trust. He is a former North East Business Exec of the year and EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and has received an OBE for his work in manufacturing.

Andrew is currently Chairman at Avid Technology, a high growth EV component developer and manufacturer.

You can read Andrew’s Register of Interests here.

Michelle Rainbow

Skills Director

Councillor Simon Henig

Leader of Durham County Council

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.

Paul Butler

CEO of North East Automotive Alliance

Paul Butler, an experienced cluster practitioner, joined the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) as Chief Executive Officer in March 2015.

Prior to his appointment, Paul spent almost a decade on the management team of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), one of Europe’s most successful clusters. Paul is also the only UK based Cluster Benchmarking Expert for the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis (ESCA), who are mandated by the EU to support the creation of more world-class clusters across the EU.

He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Durham, where his dissertation was The Role of SMEs in Clusters.

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.

David Barker

Chief Executive of Springboard

David Barker MBE is the Chief Executive of Springboard, a north east based training and community development charity which aims to promote sustainable communities where people have the skills they need for work and life. He is a former Deputy CEO at the Percy Hedley Foundation, where he spent 12 years. David is a Board member of the Voluntary Organisation’s Network North East (VONNE) and Chair of the Sunderland City Training Provider Network.


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.

Carole Botten

Chief Executive of VONNE

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East), the support body for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) in the North East of England. As the Chief Executive, Carol leads on income generation and new project development and management and also works to build relationships with external partners to advocate on behalf of the sector. 

Carol is the VCSE representative on number of strategic boards at regional and national levels, including North East Local Economic Partnership (LEP) area ESIF Sub Committee, North East LEP Employment & Skills Board, North East Combined Authority (NECA) Employability, Inclusion and Skills Steering Group. Carol also represents the VCSE sector on the national European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme Board.

Mike Parker

Director of Schools North East.

Mike Parker is Director of Schools North East.

A former journalist and external affairs specialist, Mike has extensive knowledge of membership networks, national and regional public policy engagement and organisational support.

Mike worked as a national journalist for the Press Association and as a Business Editor; he headed up media and external affairs at the North East Chamber of Commerce and one of the UK’s largest social housing providers, Home Group, and he also previously ran his own public relations business.

Simon Hanson

North East Development Manager for FSB

Simon Hanson is the North East Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). For the past ten years, Simon has developed the FSB to be the leading voice of small businesses across the region. The FSB in the North East of England represent the interests of approximately 4,000 small businesses from across the region. To do this, Simon has led the FSB work has undertaken in campaigning, lobbying, media relations, stakeholder engagement and partnership-building across the region.

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.

Ellen Thinnesen

Board member

Ellen is 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.

Lisa Crichton Jones

Executive Director of Workforce and Organisational Development at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust.

Lisa is Executive Director of Workforce and Organisational Development at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust. She has held this post since 2012 and has a broad range of workforce experience across mental health and learning disability services. Lisa is currently on secondment to the North East and North Cumbria integrated care system, leading and coordinating workforce transformation across health and care in our local area.

Lisa chairs the local Social Partnership Forum, along with the wider northern Forum and is committed to working in partnership with trade union colleagues.

She has been a governor at East Durham College for over 6 years and has recently taken up a position as Trustee at Museums North.

Born and bred in the North East, Lisa now lives in Northumberland and in her spare time enjoys walking her dog, holidays and being with family and friends.

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.

Dr Alan Lowdon, Chair, North East LEP Innovation Board

Dr Alan Lowdon

Chair - Innovation Board

Dr Lowdon has more than 25 years’ experience in the international energy and utilities markets working for multinationals including Shell, Suez, British Gas, Rolls Royce Industrial Power, Mott MacDonald and SKM as well as heading up three university spin-off companies and leading on technology and innovation for Narec. He currently acts as an advisor on energy to the UK and US governments and various UK universities and is a visiting professor at the University of Durham.

You can read Alan’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 Head of Strategy and Policy

Richard Baker

Head of Strategy, Policy and Research

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.

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

Cllr Nick Forbes became Leader of Newcastle City Council in 2011. As well as chairing the council’s Cabinet, he is the regional lead for Transport for the North East Combined Authority. He is Vice Chair of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority and also chairs FRESH, the campaign for a smoke-free North East.

He is Vice Chair of the Core Cities Cabinet, with lead responsibility for transport.

Nationally, he is Leader of the Local Government Association Labour Group, and also Senior Vice Chair of the LGA. He is a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee.

Nick trained in the NHS and worked as Chief Executive of Involve North East, a regional health charity.

You can read Councillor Forbes’ Register of Interests here.

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.

Gillian Hall

Private sector, LEP Board Member

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.

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