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A once in a generation opportunity to modernise business support

Colin Bell, Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains why evolution is key to simplifying the business support landscape to be meaningful for businesses  

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that the business support landscape is too confusing and overly transactional. There are many reasons for this but perhaps the biggest contributor is the way funding is administered and governed.

If we truly want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, then we need to grasp the once in a generation opportunity represented by the current LEP reform. This will allow us to break with the status quo while building on what works, creating regional ecosystems that deliver economic and business transformation while strengthening our global competitiveness.

However, there is a real and present danger – if we don’t act now then we risk merely evolving what’s gone before, and even worse, creating a post code lottery of locally focused small scale schemes that will result in limited impact and increased fragmentation; and inefficiencies that will exacerbate rather than address the weaknesses of the current funding and fragmented landscape.

Addressing the frailties of the system is relatively simple. We need to develop a way of working that effectively connects the essential pillars of regional economic development, which are Governance, Strategy, Funding and Delivery infrastructure.

Where these don’t work hand in hand, it leads to many of the existing issues that we are experiencing, such as inefficiency, confusion, duplication and unhealthy competition between stakeholders.

Modernising the landscape requires:

  • Creating systems that connect the essential pillars (Governance, Strategy, Funding, Delivery infrastructure) without dictating a one size fits all approach.
  • Developing regional strategy and frameworks that are built around businesses operational and competitive horizons.   
  • The creation of a long term regional economic development ‘system’, backed by long term strategy and long-term funding.
  • A system that is focused on delivering impact and transformation rather than box ticking and transactional approaches.
  • The modernisation of the business support landscape by a) rethinking how we segment the business base to identify those with real underlying potential, and b) structuring support that directly tackles business pains and helps business to deliver the gains they’re striving for.
  • Building on the existing and proven ability of LEPs and Growth Hubs to align collective energy and resources towards clear and common goals and strategy.

The evolution of LEPs and Growth Hubs should be welcomed as a much-needed chance to modernise business support. 

I know I’m joined by many in the belief that this is an opportunity to develop a landscape that enables genuine business and economic transformation. Through meaningful change, we can deliver powerful and integrated customer journeys and focused resource and energy on the businesses, programmes, and initiatives that make a real difference to the business community.

Get this right and it could be a powerful and effective way to support the government’s agenda to level up our regional economies.

Colin Bell is Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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New reports on North East economy reveal impact of COVID-19 and EU Exit

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has published two new reports, one, an annual state of the region report and the other exploring the impact of COVID-19 and EU Exit on the North East economy.

The LEP’s annual Our Economy report has been published in two parts in 2021. The first report tracks the long term performance of the North East LEP economy across a range of key economic indicators and provides an overview of how it is changing over time.

It also includes an update on progress towards the North East LEP’s aim of bringing 100,000 more and better jobs to the region by 2024, and analysis of the impact of emerging policy priorities, like levelling up and decarbonisation, on the North East.

The second report provides a comprehensive and in-depth look at the national and regional data, research, insights and commentary that shows how COVID-19 and EU exit has impacted the regional economy. Drawing on a range of additional and innovative sources of data, ‘Our Economy: Insights into the impact of COVID-19 and EU transition on the North East Economy’ gathers intelligence on the impacts of the pandemic and EU exit on the North East economy from March 2020 to the current day.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “This year, perhaps more than any other, developing our shared understanding of change in the regional economy is crucial.

“The work we have done to track, analyse and interpret data and evidence about the performance of our regional economy is central to our role at the North East LEP and a core part of the support we offer our partners.

“It is integral to our economic leadership, our influencing work with government, and underpins our investment decisions and stewardship of public funds, ensuring that regional programmes of delivery are targeted at addressing the key opportunities and challenges we face.”

The reports state that whilst the short-term impact of COVID-19 on the North East was highly disruptive and challenging, the region has continued to sustain increased levels of employment compared with its baseline in 2014, with continued growth of the proportion of better jobs – managers, directors and senior officials; professional occupations; and associate professional and technical occupations – in the region.

They also show the impact of COVID-19 on business and the labour market has been significant. Some sectors, including retail, culture and hospitality, have seen severe changes. Local, regional and national intervention has had an impact in protecting businesses and jobs, but the impact now many of these support measures have ended is unclear.

Inequalities within the region have been exacerbated by the pandemic too, with employers in many industries struggling with skills shortages.

The reports also include data showing that the region’s engagement with the global economy is changing, with the impact of EU Exit creating barriers to trade and the future trading environment still evolving.

Our Economy 2021 also looks at the performance of our programmes and sectors – which have been identified as areas of opportunity for the region, including health and life sciences, digital and energy.

Richard Baker, Strategy and Policy Director at the North East LEP explained: “The economic shock has accelerated a number of opportunities for the North East, with growth and new jobs in some of the key areas of strength and opportunity we have been focused on – in energy, life sciences and digital industries for example.

“Many firms across the economy have changed their operational models, with rapid deployment of digital technology, changing approaches to delivery of goods and services locally and growth in online exporting. There are genuine opportunities for the region to drive forward greener businesses and to drive productivity.”

The evidence provided by Our Economy is used to inform the work of the North East LEP and partners across the region in delivering the North East Strategic Economic Plan – the roadmap for increasing economic growth in the North East.

Our Economy 2021 is available to view on evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

Our Economy: Insights into the impact of COVID-19 and EU transition on the North East Economy is also available to view on evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

The North East Strategic Economic Plan can be read at northeastlep.co.uk.

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In conversation with Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, Professor Chris Day, about the role of universities in local and national recovery

As Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University – as well as a LEP board member representing further education – Professor Chris Day believes universities are absolutely central to our regional and national recovery. But to achieve all they can, they need to work together, and combine vision with the right support.

The day I started in this job, the first question that people asked me was: “How can you be a local and global university at the same time?”

For me, that’s not a conflict. Those two roles are totally complimentary.

If you’re an ambitious university, you need to deliver research that advances humanity’s shared knowledge. That means it needs to be as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

You need to offer an education that will help students to thrive in established and emerging industries, wherever they want to go.

But you also want that research – and those skills – to benefit the people who live here, in the North East of England. You want those people to see the results of your breakthroughs, whether that’s better cancer treatments or innovative processes and technologies.

And, above all, you want to create opportunity, and raise aspirations. A child growing up in the North East should be able to watch these new landmarks and industries rise on the skyline, and say, “One day, I’ll be a part of that. And it’ll change my life”.

Achieving all this needs vision, and dedication. But it also requires collaboration, transparency, and – sometimes – a willingness to try things a little differently.

Our role in the region

Newcastle University was founded in 1834 as a medical school, to produce doctors for the North East. It then became an engineering college, training workers for mining and shipbuilding.

Today, we produce graduates capable of pursuing careers in industries all over the world. But we’ve always taken our role in the region seriously.

When COVID-19 first made its presence felt, cities needed a decisive and connected response. And universities like ours had a key place at that table.

Due to our close links with the City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region, we were meeting with major players in the city, managing students and vaccinations, and letting our medical students graduate early to assist with treatment and care.

As we start to allow ourselves to think about recovery, our role is as important as ever. Universities will undoubtedly come under pressure to justify their impact, as the Government considers tough decisions about funding. But the truth is this:

At a time when we need it most, universities have the power to become a valuable driver of our economy. With the right support, and vision.

In many ways, the addition of impact to the Research Excellence Framework has focused the minds of university leaders and academics. We’ve acknowledged that we need to show the benefit we bring to society more clearly, and pursue research that has a direct benefit. But it’s also important that universities undertake research that simply increases knowledge, and do the speculative work that enables us to take greater leaps forward.

Quantum physicists didn’t do research so that we could all have phones in our pockets. But we have these devices today because of what they learned.

Universities are the only place that can do work like this. In the R&D departments of companies with shareholders, you can’t have a few people in the corner simply “trying things out”. But that sort of work is absolutely essential.

If you want an example of that relationship, look at Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Researchers developing, and AstraZeneca putting cash in. The result is vaccines that we can all use, and two institutions playing to their strengths.

At Newcastle University, we’re investing in initiatives that will benefit both the world, and the region. Our Newcastle Helix site is the embodiment of our data and ageing science expertise. It’s home to 65 innovative companies, and more than 2,600 jobs. But it’s also crucial to our plans to assist with the regeneration of the West End of the city.

The old Newcastle General Hospital site will soon transform into the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, which will become a leading site for new drugs and discoveries, as well as a test bed for how to improve treatment and services for our ageing population.

Collaboration is absolutely vital to this work. Up in Blyth, Britishvolt is setting up a £2.6bn battery gigaplant, providing 3,000 highly skilled jobs as well as 5,000 down the supply chain.

One of the reasons that site was selected was because our university has fantastic battery researchers, and that we’re also able to provide the skills and training. We’re also linking our researchers with existing regional industries, such as our work with Nissan on the sustainable automotive industry.

That’s what a university can do, when it has the freedom to think beyond its core teaching, and dream of something bigger and more transformative.

And what’s at risk, if we think too small, or too fearfully.

What can we do better?

Universities UK launched the “Getting Results” campaign this summer because it believes universities have an integral role in developing talent, and building prosperity.

Universities are places of learning, places of innovation, and places of opportunity. But as every industry attempts to rebound from the events of the last two years, we need to respond, and address areas where we can do better.

That means working together. It means lifting each other up. And it means being clearer about what we do, and how we can help others.

For example, COVID-19 has emphasised the disparities in wealth and outcomes across the country. If you mapped areas of child poverty in 1850 across the UK with areas worst hit by COVID-19, they’d be almost identical.

So how do universities and their partners address these differences, and ensure more inclusive growth? The number of students from deprived backgrounds at our university has risen from 7% in 2016 to around 20%. But how do we continue this work, and help others across the country to do the same?

We need to work with Further Education partners to up-skill our current and future workforce for the roles they’ll take in future. And we’re talking about the 40 year olds, as well as the 20 year olds.

We still hear from businesses that don’t know where to go to access university R&D expertise. One of the aims of our campaign is to provide a website where a company can look up the lead contacts at Britain’s universities. We want them to be able to find the people with the expertise they want, form partnerships, and work together on valuable solutions.

Universities the length and breadth of the UK need to raise a flag, and show employers and policymakers that they can be a key player in the economic and social outcomes of our towns and cities, and the country as a whole.

We’re already a big part of our community. Let’s also be a big part of our recovery.

Professor Chris Day is the chair of the Universities UK group behind the “Getting Results” campaign. He is also vice chancellor and president of Newcastle University, as well as a member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership board representing the higher education sector.

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Just Eat to create over 1,500 new jobs in North East

Just Eat today announces it will create more than 1,500 new customer service jobs over the next 12 months.

The new roles will be based in Houghton le Spring, Sunderland.  Overall, Just Eat is investing more than £100m into the region across the next five years which will go towards creating a modern workspace for the team, equipment, training and jobs.

Recruitment is underway with approximately 300 jobs already created to date. A variety of positions from customer service advisors to team leadership, specialist support roles and management are available.

All new customer service employees will take part in a bespoke and comprehensive training programme before they start their new roles at Just Eat. They will also benefit from longer-term career development plans to enable them to build relevant skills and progress within the business.

Employees will have access to a range of benefits and will be based in a new state of the art office in the heart of Sunderland. Equipped with a gym, catering area and a lounge, the space measures at 20,000 square metres, across four floors. Employees will begin working from home with plans to operate a hybrid model in the coming months.

Just Eat’s UK customer care team supports its 58,000+ restaurant partners and millions of customers on a wide variety of topics from order enquiries to helping restaurants with their menus. The move will help Just Eat improve overall service by increasing employee engagement and providing greater insight into its partners’ and customers’ experience of Just Eat.

Andrew Kenny, UK Managing Director at Just Eat, said: “As part of our ongoing investment in our UK business, we’re delighted to be creating upwards of a thousand new employment opportunities in our customer care department over the next 12 months. Alongside the launch of our worker model for couriers, this move will help us to bring the very best service to our customers and restaurant partners as demand for food delivery goes from strength to strength in the UK.

“As a platform that covers 95% of UK postcodes, we also know the importance of increasing career opportunities outside of London and the South East. We’re pleased to be announcing our commitment to the North East, to help boost the region’s economy.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re thrilled to have supported Just Eat to make its move to Sunderland, joining a dynamic business community and creating jobs and opportunities for people across the city.

“We’re very proud of what Sunderland offers as a place to do business, and it is vindication of that offer when brands like Just Eat are drawn to the city thanks to the work of our team and colleagues from Invest North East England and the North East LEP in attracting them.  We’re immensely proud of our skilled people and look forward to seeing how they drive the onward success of the Just Eat business.”

Andrew Moffat CBE, Chair of the North East LEP Investment Board, added: “Just Eat’s commitment to create more than 1,000 jobs in the North East and continue its investment in apprenticeships and long-term career development is great news for Sunderland, and our region.

“Just Eat is a hugely successful, multinational business, and we’re delighted to have been able to work with them alongside Invest North East England to support them to help secure the North East as the location to continue their growth journey.”

Business Minister Paul Scully said: “It’s great to hear Just Eat are delivering for the North East’s economy by creating 1000 new jobs, from management to customer service, which will help make the region an even better place to build a career.

“This investment drives forward our plan to level up the whole of the UK, ensuring all our regions and nations thrive as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Just Eat’s employment boost in the North East builds on the business’ new worker model for couriers in the UK, which now has more than 4,500 roles. Initially launched in London, the model has since rolled out to Birmingham, Liverpool, Brighton and Cambridge, with further cities in the pipeline across 2021. All couriers contracted through this model are entitled to hourly pay, minimum/living wage, pension contributions and certain statutory benefits including holiday pay and sick pay.

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In conversation with Toby Bridges, Executive Chair, The NBT Group and Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP, about the importance of digital adoption in driving operational efficiency

How has the pace of digital adoption in the manufacturing sector impacted the work you do?

I chair The NBT Group, a supply chain management company that works closely with manufacturing businesses across the region and beyond. We’ve been working with our clients on automation for at least the last five years.

We’ve created and built a range of new technology that helps businesses become more operationally efficient, which in turn makes them more cost effective.

We’re aiming to move our clients, and suppliers, away from traditionally manual tasks, so they can focus on creating better jobs, which fits with the North East Strategic Economic Plan.

We enable our customers to do more with less, so they can take that saving and reinvest it into growing their business.

Why is investing in new digital tools and technology so important for the North East’s manufacturing sector?

For me, the goal is to drive operational efficiency. We need to position the North East as the most efficient location in the country to do business. That’s part of the reason why businesses continue to invest here.

Productivity is so important to the health of our economy. There are lots of places in the world where wages are cheaper, but they’re not as efficient and productive as the workforce in the North East. That has to continue, and automation will help us achieve that.

We need to encourage more companies to think about how they become 21st century, industry 4.0 businesses; otherwise they risk being left behind. That’s why the North East LEP has launched the Made Smarter Adoption North East programme, which aims to help manufacturing SMEs in the region adopt new digital technology, innovation and skills; helping drive growth in UK manufacturing.

Will the automation of manufacturing lead to job losses in the sector?

Whilst we will lose some jobs as manual tasks are replaced by technology, we will create far more ‘better’ jobs. It’s not easy to move from a traditional working model to a new, leaner way of doing things. To do that, businesses need to bring in new skills and talent.

The most important thing for the North East is to be ahead of the change that’s coming. We need to make sure we have the talent and expertise in the region to support businesses on this journey.

Understandably, many people focus on the importance of digital skills, but I think we need to invest in creative subjects too, like art and design. We need people that think outside the box. We can teach people how to code, but we shouldn’t underplay the power of the arts in helping manage change and encouraging new thinking.

What does the future hold for manufacturing? What will the sector look like in five or ten years time because of the move to advanced manufacturing?

I think basic manual tasks will become automated, but because of that, we’ll create a new skilled workforce to manage those systems.

It’s important to remember there are cultural challenges around automation too. It’s a difficult conversation to have sometimes but we can’t bury our heads in the ground – it’s coming.

That’s why the region’s focus on retraining and reskilling is so important, that two-way conversation between the educational establishments and industry on what is needed over the next 10-20 years. We need to support businesses and employees to invest in life-long learning so we continue to be prepared for and adapt to the changes digital technology will bring about in all our lives.

We need to create a positive message around digitisation and the benefits it will bring to jobs and the economy.

Toby Bridges is Executive Chair at The NBT Group and a Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP.

The NBT Group is part of a collaborative research project with Northumbria University and Senseye to evaluate new and emerging ‘smart’ technologies, helping to digitalise and transform manufacturing supply chains (read more here). The award of over £250k is part of the £18 million of funding granted through the Digital Supply Chain competition, which forms part of UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Made Smarter innovation challenge. The Digital Supply Chain competition supports the development of innovations designed to help manufacturing supply chains become more productive and sustainable.

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Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, on the publication of the Green Jobs Taskforce report

In November 2020, government published its ambitious ten point plan for a green industrial revolution in the UK.

Focused on increasing ambition in emerging and growing sectors like offshore wind, low carbon hydrogen, and electrification, it cemented government’s aim to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic, support green jobs, and accelerate the UK’s path to net zero.

Announced as part of the ten point plan was the formation of a new Green Jobs Taskforce – made up of representatives from industry, trade unions, and the skills sector – which would set the direction of travel for the green jobs market.

On 15 July, the Green Jobs Taskforce published its first report to government, industry, and the skills sector, outlining the importance of investing in the UK workforce to ensure people develop the right skills to deliver the country’s net zero transition, and thrive in a green economy it creates.

The report is of particular relevance to the North East, where green jobs are poised to transform our economy. We are already one of the world’s leading destinations for offshore wind, and recent investments from Nissan and Britishvolt have put our region at the forefront of the electric vehicle market. Innovations in heat networks and other forms of low carbon heat – including mine energy – also position the North East to become the UK’s first low carbon heat cluster, which will see the region benefit greatly from the growth of the green economy.

So how do we plan to maximise on this unique opportunity and play a central role in helping the UK reach its net zero target by 2050? Working alongside partners in industry and academia, we’re mapping the current and future skills needs in the green economy to ensure sectors in the North East – particularly those with the biggest potential for growth – have access to the talent and expertise they need to scale.

As facilitator of the skills workstream for Energi Coast – North East England’s offshore wind cluster – the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is working with industry and the education sector to develop an action plan to meet the needs of the sector with demand-led provision. Central to this is the commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in the offshore wind industry, and the group is actively working with employers to review their current recruitment and retention processes to ensure opportunities are provided to all.

The Energi Coast skills group is also working on a series of case studies that will reflect the partnership approach adopted by the offshore wind industry, the education sector, and government, in ensuring green careers advice is available to people in all sectors and at every stage of the career journey; reinforcing the importance of reskilling and retraining in creating new green jobs.

The low carbon heat supply chain is another significant growth area for the region’s economy, and we’ve recently completed a piece of work to identify the opportunities that exist both now, and in the future, for supply chain businesses, and what this will mean for skills demands. Additionally, as outlined in our Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East, we’re addressing the need for investment in skills and training around retrofitting by working with the North East and Yorkshire Local Energy Hub on a housing retrofit skills model.

The North East’s significant automotive cluster and hub of activity in the battery and electric vehicles sectors means it’s well placed as a UK centre to meet the global demand for electric vehicles, and help lead innovation in the sector. Nissan’s decision to open a new gigfactory battery plant at its site in Sunderland, and the news Britishvolt will open another gigfactory in Northumberland, demonstrates the industry’s level of confidence in the North East. To ensure we have the skills to meet the demand, we’re working with the North East Automotive Alliance to address skills development in electrification and electric vehicle batteries.

The North East LEP’s Skills team is working alongside the eight early adopter status T-Level providers in the region to help strengthen their links with the business community, ensuring the new vocational qualifications – which include a 45-day industry placement – meet the needs of employers, and help deliver the skills needed to meet the green jobs of the future.

The Skills team is also working with the North East Institute of Technology, local colleges, and major employers like Nissan and Esh Group, to highlight Higher Technical Qualifications in subjects like advanced manufacturing and other STEM topics, as skills in these areas will be central to delivering the green industrial revolution in the UK.

The green economies of the future offer a huge opportunity for the North East to grow its economy and create thousands of more and better jobs. But to do that, we need to invest in skills – both in our future workforce via schools, colleges and universities, but also in our workplaces, by re-training and re-skilling our existing workforce.

In doing so we’ll position the North East as a major destination for skills and talent in green jobs, helping attract more businesses to invest here, ensuring the North East is at the forefront of the UK’s green industrial revolution.

Read more about the North East LEP’s work to support and grow the North East energy sector.

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New government-backed business support programme aims to increase digital technology adoption in North East manufacturing sector

A new business support programme aimed at helping manufacturing SMEs in the North East increase digital technology adoption, innovation and skills has launched in the region.

Made Smarter Adoption North East connects manufacturing businesses to digital tools that can transform the way they work. The programme, which is backed by government, aims to drive growth in UK manufacturing by improving the development and adoption of emerging technologies across the sector.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The coronavirus pandemic saw an unprecedented pace of digital adoption across many areas of industry, which ultimately helped many businesses survive.

“Made Smarter Adoption North East is about supporting businesses in our manufacturing sector to embrace new technologies that help them become more efficient, more productive and more competitive. It connects companies with expert talent that can remove the barriers to digital adoption and ultimately make businesses more successful.

“The adoption of new digital solutions within manufacturing is completely transforming the sector and if businesses don’t adapt they risk being left behind. Made Smarter Adoption North East is the opportunity for manufacturing businesses in our region to access the help and support they need to embrace industry 4.0 and help lead economic growth in the North East.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East provides SMEs with fully-funded advice from specialist technology experts on the adoption of new digital technologies, innovations and skills. The three-stage process includes an initial one-to-one digital health check, helping businesses identify where improvements can be made. More intensive workshops look at the solutions available and how the technology works in practice. The final stage sees businesses work with an industrial digital technologies (IDT) specialist to move towards the implementation phase. Participating businesses will also be given support in identifying possible grant funding to help with the purchase of new technology and equipment.

Additional funding is provided through the programme for student and graduate placements so businesses can create digital interns to help integrate the new technology into the business. Employees are also invited to take part in digital upskilling and leadership development through Made Smarter Adoption North East’s leadership training programme, which is delivered by North East universities.

The wider Made Smarter programme was created following an industry-led review of how UK manufacturing industries can prosper through digital tools and innovation. This independent review was commissioned by UK Government and led by Professor Juergen Maier CBE, Co-Chair of Made Smarter UK.

Juergen Maier CBE said: “Made Smarter will be helping local manufacturing businesses to create new opportunities and innovate in the process.

“It’s a hugely exciting time and I believe this is truly a once in a generational opportunity to boost productivity and create the high value, highly paid jobs of the future.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East is open to all manufacturing SMEs in the North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas.

Businesses in the North East LEP area (Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk.

Businesses in the Tees Valley Combined Authority area (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Cleveland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.teesvalleybusiness.com/MadeSmarter.

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In conversation with Ammar Mirza CBE, Business Growth Board chair, about the North East LEP’s annual review and the work of the Business Growth team

It’s been an emotional and dramatic time for North East businesses, and there’s more change to come. As crucial pandemic funding and support from the government winds down, the North East LEP’s Business Growth team is prepared to help businesses and employees to adjust, rebound, and seize their opportunities to be entrepreneurial and brave.

We talked to the LEP’s Business Growth Board chair, Ammar Mirza CBE, about the future.

If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s the value of being able to adapt.

The early months of the pandemic were an emotional time. Talking to people faced with this storm, who were scared that they’d lost it all.

The team helped them plan a route ahead. We worked with people who had fallen through the cracks in support, and our partners all mucked in to support one another.

The time and effort they put in was nothing short of humbling. That’s why we do what we do, and why board members volunteer their time. Because we can see the difference we can all make together.

In 2020/21, we worked intensively with around 1,500 businesses of different sizes. Thanks to collaboration with the Business Growth Board and the Business Support Provider Network, we were able to support people starting a business, operating under COVID-19 restrictions, and even acting on new opportunities. We secured £4.4m to help North East businesses weather COVID-19. 

We’re starting to see more optimism in the business community. But there’s still some caution and hesitancy. And every shift affects people differently.

Some sectors have never grown as quickly as they have over the last two quarters. But others simply haven’t been able to. That includes leisure and hospitality, and businesses that rely on large-scale events.

Professional services aren’t back in the office at the same scale, and that’s changed the dynamic in our city and town centres. With no commute, we’ve seen significant increases in productivity. But – with the gap between home and office blurring – we need to be mindful of people’s wellbeing.

Money remains the biggest enabler, and the biggest barrier. Many people still remain on furlough. And as the financial support provided during the lockdowns begins to wind up, we’ll see a lot more businesses struggle.

We’ll continue to work with good companies, so that they have a base to build from. But we’re seeing a seismic shift in what’s done, who does what, and how it’s done. Some businesses in the North East and beyond may not survive, in their current form.

But that’s not where our support ends. We’re working to ensure there are initiatives and opportunities in place to help people re-skill and up-skill. But – in parallel with that – we want to help individuals boost their aspiration, and their ambition.

Our aim is to galvanise the entrepreneurial spirit of the North East. We want to help more people start businesses, and grow them. For example, we’re now part of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme, which saw the launch for a project aimed at increasing and retaining entrepreneurial talent in the region. That will continue in 2021/22.

This is a time of change, but that also means there are so many opportunities out there. We can use this shift to bring in a new breed of entrepreneur, and we’ll do everything possible to help them achieve their dreams.

Ammar Mirza CBE is an award-winning entrepreneur and business founder, and Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board.

The North East LEP Annual Review 2020/21 is available to read here.

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Review of region’s economic progress and business support published

In a year when COVID-19 hit the global economy, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has released an overview of its support for businesses and the region’s progress towards creating 100,000 more and better jobs. 

The North East LEP Annual Review for 2020/21 includes details of the North East COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Deal; the North East LEP’s partnership with Crowdfunder UK to support small businesses; and the Challenge North East programme, which helped businesses to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues the region is facing as a result of the pandemic.

Helen Golightly OBE, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “Innate to our wonderful region is a sense that – whatever happens – we can and will go again and it is this drive and determination that has overwhelmingly dominated our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Good communication – listening and learning – has helped us and our partners work collaboratively for the good of the region. While there is still much to do, and our focus and resolve will continue, it is right to take stock of this, mark the moment and feel proud.”

During 2020/21, the North East LEP came together with North East Combined Authority, North of Tyne Combined Authority, CBI, Newcastle University on behalf of the region’s universities, the voluntary sector and trade unions to form the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group. In September 2020, the group published the Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East which asks government for £2.8 billion investment to unlock half of the 100,000 more jobs required to support the North East to build back stronger after the pandemic.

The North East LEP Annual Review also details the success of the partnership with Crowdfunder UK which saw the public join forces with the North East LEP to safeguard 128 businesses and more than 400 jobs.

And the business community used its strengths in innovation to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, with more than 60 SMEs putting forward ideas as part of Challenge North East. The programme is providing funding and support for businesses to develop solutions to problems including making in-person events safe again, and helping organisations which carry out work in people’s homes. £125,000 has now been awarded for seven of the most promising solutions to be brought to market.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “Despite the challenges we have all faced, it’s clear that the region has pulled together to support each other and move towards recovery.

The team at the North East LEP, along with our many partners, has continued its work to help businesses and communities thrive in our region. From our work with schools and colleges, where we aim to make sure that every child and young person receives the best possible careers guidance, through to our programmes of support for the region’s industries of the future, I am heartened to see that we’re still making strong progress towards achieving our aim of bringing 100,000 more and better jobs to our region by 2024.”

The North East LEP Annual Review is available to read here.