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Northern leaders set out collective offer to work with Government to level up the North

Civic and business leaders from across the North are putting forward a collective partnership offer to Government, setting out how the North can lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution and deliver on the levelling up promise.

In a document published today by the Convention of the North and the NP11 group of northern local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), northern leaders set out the five “gamechangers” which, through collaboration across the North and with Government, will grow an inclusive economy that delivers for the North and the country, while also tackling the health inequalities that have been laid bare by COVID-19. Those game changers are:

  • Leading the Green Industrial Revolution
  • Closing the healthy life expectancy gap between the North and South through innovation
  • Closing the education and skills gap
  • Improving connectivity in towns and cities in the North
  • Increasing private and public investment in R&D spending in the North

The five gamechangers represent a combined Northern offer to Government to ensure the North plays its full part in levelling up the UK, leading the transition to a Net Zero economy and developing a competitive Global Britain.

Leaders have invited the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, to join them for a working Convention in Liverpool in January 2022, focused on turning the Government’s positive commitment to level up the North into action.

Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram, who will mark the document’s launch with a business roundtable in Liverpool focusing on the opportunities for the North to lead the transition to Net Zero, said:

“True levelling up has to mean tackling long-standing and structural inequalities that exist between North and South in this country on a wide range of issues, from healthcare and job prospects, to transport and infrastructure spending. This is not an issue of party politics but one of fairness and social justice.

“As leaders representing millions of people across the North, we want to work with government to make that a reality. The North has been hit harder than the rest of the country, but I believe that with proper support we also have the potential to bounce back further and faster than the rest of the country too.

“From levelling up to climate change and everything in between, the solutions to many of the fundamental issues facing the country lie in empowering local leaders to work with central government and take the decisions that our areas need to shape our own destinies and build a stronger, fairer, better balanced United Kingdom.”

Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council and Chair of the Convention of the North, said:

“The North of England is ready and prepared to play a leading role in driving this country forwards but we need meaningful partnerships with Government if we are to succeed.

“We are asking the Government to work with us and equip the North so it can achieve its full potential. Delivering this would truly demonstrate a commitment to levelling up the North.

“We want to develop skills within our communities, tackle the health inequalities that have been laid bare by the pandemic, attract greater investment into our towns and cities, and lead on the Net Zero transition. We cannot achieve these goals on our own, and that is why the North is united behind these priorities and this offer to Government today.”

Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the NP11 and of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said:

“The North has phenomenal assets in areas such as energy, advanced manufacturing, health innovation and digital that can power the UK’s post-COVID recovery and create jobs and opportunity for our people. As a combined region, we also have the scale to help the Government deliver on its ambition for a competitive and confident Global Britain.

“Successful partnership working between the public and private sectors is going to be crucial to delivering the gamechangers we have collectively identified. Businesses drive innovation and create quality jobs, both of which contribute to people’s health, wealth and quality of life. This is why the NP11 is adding its business voice to that of northern civic leaders in making this offer today.”

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said:

“Today is a powerful statement of northerners’ desire to get on with the job of levelling up, working together across the North and with Government. Through a clear focus on our levelling up priorities of health, skills, transport, innovation and leading the transition to net zero, we can deliver an inclusive, productive, sustainable economy that works for all northerners and for the country.

“As an immediate action, we’re calling on Government once again to publish its Integrated Rail Plan and commit to delivering both Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full. We will not be able to achieve levelling up without an affordable, effective and reliable transport system that connects people to jobs, education and essential services.”

Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, added:

“All too often, health inequalities go hand in hand with the wider impacts of poverty. That’s seen in so many different aspects, from missed life chances for young people to the greater risk of being a victim of crime for people living in areas of deprivation.

“The way to solve this, to spread opportunity and to reduce crime, is to level up health services and investment in the North.”

Today’s publication of Northern leaders’ collective offer to Government will pave the way for a Convention of the North with NP11 event, due to take place in Liverpool in early 2022.

Following the success of its inaugural event in September 2019, at which Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a series of commitments to the North, the Convention of the North with NP11 will work with Government to focus resources and investment on the North to allow it to level up.

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The Convention of the North

The Convention of the North brings together people from across the North, including businesses, trade unions, elected leaders, and community and faith groups, to speak with one voice on pan-Northern issues.

The NP11

The NP11 is the business-led voice for the North that brings together the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from across the North of England. It plays a leading role in realising the vision for an economically thriving Northern Powerhouse that drives economic prosperity, international competitiveness, and inclusive growth that benefits everyone across the North’s great towns, cities and rural communities.

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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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North East businesses helping the ‘COVID generation’ find a pathway to the workplace

Across the North East, partnerships have been formed between people working in sectors from marketing to manufacturing and their local school or college.

Across the North East, partnerships have been formed between people working in sectors from marketing to manufacturing and their local school or college. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) explains how the Enterprise Adviser network works, and how it’s survived the pandemic.

Enterprise Advisers are people who’ve signed up to help the senior management team at their local school or college better align careers guidance with what businesses need.

At the start of 2020, we had a fantastic network of 250 people who have volunteered to share their knowledge to help bridge the gap between education and industry. This happens by embedding careers in the curriculum and giving young people real-world experience of the workplace.

But when the pandemic hit, businesses were under such pressure that we thought we may lose the entire network. However, we were absolutely delighted and surprised that the majority of our Enterprise Advisers were able to continue and we’re really grateful for their contributions.

The activities our Enterprise Advisers have been able to help their schools undertake during COVID have been extraordinary and, for a generation of young people who will see the lasting effect of COVID on their employment opportunities, it’s been so important that the North East business community has continued to support them and help them see the opportunities that are out there when they leave education.

At St Robert of Newminster Catholic School in Washington, our Enterprise Adviser, Carole White, who is CEO at TEDCO Business Support, secured 10 businesses to meet year 10 pupils and tell them about careers in their sector. While at Bishop Auckland College, employability skills workshops and virtual work experience was put in place by the college’s Enterprise Adviser from Bowmer & Kirkland construction.

Businesses in our region genuinely want to give back to the local community and help young people build a brighter future and I want to thank every person who’s already helped make a difference through the Enterprise Adviser network, especially throughout the pandemic.

Now we’re wanting to grow our Enterprise Adviser network even further. We’re looking for people of any age, from businesses in any sector and of any size, who want to help schools give young people a better experience of careers guidance. We recognise one size doesn’t fit all and people have different amount of time to commit, so whether you’re a one-man-band or a multinational company, we can work something out to suit you.

We want all young people across the North East to have the opportunity to interact with businesses and employers. It gives them something that’s tangible in terms of understanding future career options and just one interaction, like a visit to your workplace, or the chance to work on a real-life project with an employer like you, can be the trigger that helps a young person see a future for themselves in your business.

Find out about being an Enterprise Adviser at NorthEastAmbition.co.uk.

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Helen Golightly OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the North East LEP, explains how and why we are working with government on the ongoing LEP review

The move into the final quarter of the year always gives me pause for reflection and there is much to think about as we continue to adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and consider how to best serve the region’s business community. 

One of the things we have been working with government on over the past six months is a national review of Local Enterprise Partnerships. 

LEPs are not statutory bodies, so it is right that we are reviewed to check that our priorities and set up remain fit for purpose. Government reviews of our performance are not new – they happen every year and have always been incredibly favourable for us here at the North East LEP. Just last year, our team was rated ‘exceptional’ for delivery, and this is testament to the strength of our leadership, partner relationship and highly skilled team, as well as the impact of our strategic projects which have continued to boost economic development and job creation at a very critical time. 

When the review commenced, I was pleased to be approached to lead and participate in the national groups set up to inform and guide it. My colleagues Michelle Rainbow (Skills Director) and Jen Robson (Head of Communications) and I are very involved in the process. 

As one of 38 LEPs operating across England following our establishment in 2011, we have had a clear and unified purpose – to develop local economic strategies and priorities that deliver an overarching objective. For us this is the creation of 100,000 more and better jobs for the North East LEP area. 

We’ve worked hard to do just that. Partner engagement with the North East LEP and the region’s Strategic Economic Plan has helped deliver 60,000 jobs since 2014 and the employment gap between the North East and England (excluding London) has reduced by 31%. The changes have been driven by a 36% increase in employment in professional occupations.

Together with our partners, we have secured well over £2 billion investment for the region, resulting in the delivery of over 140 capital and 40 revenue projects securing 20,000 more jobs for the region.

We are particularly proud of where we are delivering game changing projects and programmes at a regional level – in spaces where it makes sense to do things at scale, rather than at a more local level. 

The North East Growth Hub has become critical in providing our North East businesses with support, particularly during the run up to EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic. We supported over 2,000 businesses last year as they navigated their way through the economic shocks they were faced with. 

Building on our pioneering work on the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, I was thrilled to see the launch of a second pilot in the North East LEP region, this time focusing on primary schools. This aims to sow the seeds of ambition from an early age, in recognition of the fact children can start to make career limiting decisions as early as five years old. 

We were extremely encouraged by the announcement in March 2020 that the North East will be at the centre of government investment in innovation. This is expected to be in Power Electronics and Electric Machines and centred around the establishment of four Driving the Electric Revolution Centres which will share £30m to research and develop green electric machines including aircraft, ships and cars. 

Next week, we will launch our fourth Our Economy report. Our Economy is a deep dive into the regional economy and how it is changing over time. One of our key roles is to provide robust evidence that is valued by our partners, helping inform decision making and shaping a more accurate narrative about the North East.

Whilst our track of delivery is demonstrable, there is no doubt that COVID has hit the North East hard. 

Employment in the North East LEP area decreased by about 10,000 (or 1.1%) in the 12 months from April 2020, with particularly large falls in the number of self-employed people (down 15%) and among older workers (down 6% for 50 to 64-year-olds). Over 40,000 North East employees were still furloughed at the end of July and, although still officially classified as employed, the future employment prospects of some are likely to be uncertain.  

The nature of our work and particularly how funding is allocated means it is critical that we are completely transparent and scrutinised on an ongoing basis. I personally believe that all organisations need to challenge themselves and be challenged to improve. The pace of change has accelerated since the start of the pandemic and government is right to check that the LEP business model is still fit for purpose and how it should adapt to maximise and target impact. 

With the support of a dedicated Board, we have built an agile organisation that has already evolved to meet the significant challenges of the past two years – from the EU exit to Coronavirus. 

In our organisation we have four core values – do the right thing, better together, think bigger and to make a difference. Those values weren’t chosen lightly; they are important to us and embraced by all the team in all they do. We are here to serve and add strategic value – to our businesses, partners, local and combined authorities, in a way that supports and leads them in whatever way they need to create greater economic wealth in the North East. We can offer expertise, conviction and rigour in our areas of leadership and specialism. 

To review the national economic development delivery model at such a critical time is important to ensure delivery is both accelerated and targeted, to support our businesses to recover from the impact of the pandemic and to seize the opportunities presented to them. The North East LEP stands ready to continue to utilise it’s leadership, talent and partnerships to continue to drive economic growth in the region.

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Port of Tyne and Equinor announced as new North East Energy Catalyst partners

The Port of Tyne and Equinor have been announced as partners in the North East Energy Catalyst network.

The Port of Tyne and Equinor have been announced as partners in the North East Energy Catalyst network.

The two companies joined the ground-breaking partnership that brings together the North East’s leading energy innovation, demonstration and delivery capabilities to work towards shared goals.

The Catalyst was set up in 2019 to invite and co-ordinate engagement with industry and business, promoting opportunities available in the North East to diversify, commercialise new solutions, and to deliver regional growth and employment across the energy sector.

Offshore innovator Equinor is part of the joint venture behind the world’s biggest offshore wind farm Dogger Bank. It recently announced plans to build a new Operations and Maintenance (O&M) base at the Port of Tyne, supporting the Port’s ‘Tyne 2050’ strategy to become one of the most environmentally sustainable ports in the UK by 2030. 

Tom Nightingale, North East Stakeholder Manager at Equinor, said: “We are delighted to become part of the North East Energy Catalyst’s partner network, joining the region’s leading energy innovators.

“The broad range of assets and organisations we can access presents exciting opportunities for collaboration and research in offshore wind and the wider energy space. The Catalyst aims to solve innovation challenges and support the development of the offshore wind industry in the UK and beyond, aligning with our goals as a developer with offshore wind activities globally.

Dr Jo North, Technology and Transformation Director at the Port of Tyne, said:Having collaborated with the North East Energy Catalyst in several exciting and beneficial ventures, the Port of Tyne is delighted to cement this relationship by joining the Energy Catalyst Partner Network.

“The port and the 2050 Innovation Hub are firm believers in open innovation and continual dialogue with like-minded, cross sector organisations. 

“The North East Energy Catalyst acts as a conduit for collaborative partnership development, bringing organisations together to work towards shared visions and goals.  The Catalyst has been extremely proactive in bringing partners and solution providers to the port and receptive to approaches for help and support when needed.”

Facilitated by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the partnership includes Newcastle University; Durham University; Northumbria University; Zero Carbon Futures (a subsidiary of Gateshead College); Northern Powergrid; Northern Gas Networks; the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult which has test facilities at Blyth; the British Engines Group; the Innovation SuperNetwork; Northumbrian Water; the North of Tyne Combined Authority; and the North East Combined Authority.

Together, they are working to tackle major energy challenges and deliver on national policy; drive new economic growth opportunities; accelerate regional decarbonisation; and foster engagement with partners.

David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East LEP, said: “Both Port of Tyne and Equinor are at the forefront of the offshore wind revolution and play a pivotal role in our shared goal of creating a green and resilient economy, as well as reaching our target of net zero emissions.

“Along with our other key partners, we are delighted to welcome Port of Tyne and Equinor to the North East Energy Catalyst.”

The initiative follows the identification of energy innovation and demonstration as a key theme within North East LEP’s Energy for Growth strategy, which aims to drive economic growth in the North East while also bringing sector partners together to deliver on national energy strategy.

Energy was identified as an area of key importance in the North East Strategic Economic Plan, with the potential to bring investment and jobs to our region.

Read more about the North East Energy Catalyst here.

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Annual ‘Our Economy’ event to review region’s economic performance through COVID and EU Exit

An overview of how the North East economy has fared throughout EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic will be presented at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s annual Our Economy event.

Online event, Thursday 7 October 2021, 9.30am – 11am

An overview of how the North East economy has fared throughout EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic will be presented at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP’s) annual Our Economy event.

Taking place online on Thursday 7 October 2021, the event will include a discussion of the challenges businesses have faced and the support needed; the impact of changes such as increased home working and shifting patterns of commuting and shopping; and economic evidence showing where the North East economy has been resilient.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “Everything we do at the North East LEP is informed by data, and each year we publish Our Economy, which brings together  evidence that allows us to review the region’s economic performance over the past year and track changes over the longer term.

“This year, of course, the data will show what the effects of Great Britain’s exit from the EU, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have been on the North East.”

The event will include a panel discussion about the challenges, opportunities and changes presented by the pandemic and EU Exit, with keynote speakers including Nima Beni, Director, Prima Cheese; Roger Kilbourn, Managing Director at drug development and manufacturing accelerator, Quotient Sciences; and Linda Currie, Chief People Officer at Purmo Group, a global presence in the equipment, systems and technology that create indoor climates.

“Through sharing the information in Our Economy with the North East business community, we can work together to position our region strongly for recovery and growth,” added Lucy Winskell.

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.  

The event on 7 October will also include an update on progress towards achieving the aim set out in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan, of adding 100,000 more and better jobs to the North East economy by 2024.

Book a free ticket for the event here. 

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Supporting Community Energy in the North East

A new report, commissioned by the North East LEP in partnership with the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Durham County Council and South Tyneside Council, has today shone a light on the vital opportunity that community energy projects present in the region. Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East LEP, explains more.

It is with great pleasure that we today welcome the publication of the North East Community Energy Study.

Never has the need to tackle the climate emergency been more urgent and this important piece of research has brought us a step closer to supporting our communities to benefit from the move to net zero.

Community energy projects are initiatives led by local communities, with an emphasis on community ownership, leadership or control, where the community benefits. They can include things like wind turbines or solar farms that have been set up by local people or aim to benefit the community, community groups offering energy advice to people in their neighbourhood, green tariff switches and car sharing clubs.

As a region, the North East historically has the lowest amount of community energy projects in the UK. To help address this, the North East LEP commissioned the North East Community Energy Study in partnership with the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Durham County Council and South Tyneside Council.

The aim was to carry out in-depth research on what structure, mechanisms, models and support would enable the successful development and delivery of more community energy projects in the North East LEP area. The report will inform the approach and actions taken by regional stakeholders.

The Benefits of Community Energy

Community energy projects have typically been developed in response to climate change concerns, as community groups set out to reduce carbon emissions. However, reducing emissions is just one of the benefits that motivates community organisations to develop energy projects. Community energy projects have been used to generate income for social and environmental focused community development projects, raise awareness around energy use and climate change, improve local economic resilience, create community cohesion and tackle fuel poverty.

The North East Picture

The North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan identifies Energy as one of four areas of strategic importance that could improve the North East’s economic competitiveness and community energy is identified as one of the 13 key strategic themes highlighted in the Energy for Growth strategy.[1] Creating a community owned green energy company is part of the North of Tyne Mayor’s Manifesto.

The North East region has a number of community organisations involved in energy initiatives but few dedicated community energy groups. A similar situation is found in neighbouring regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber where there are nine active community energy groups.[2]

Making a Difference Locally

Developing a clear approach to supporting delivery of community led energy projects in the North East, and ensuring wider successful involvement of communities in projects, should be an important part of our regional approach to net zero. This report has carried out extensive engagement with community groups and the regional partners that could be part of a supporting ecosystem for projects. The intelligence gathered will now inform practical steps that can be taken by regional stakeholders to progress the community energy projects that will make a difference locally whilst being part of something bigger.

You can read the Executive Summary and full North East Community Energy Study report on the North East Evidence Hub.

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[1] https://www.northeastlep.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/full-strategy-energy-for-growth-strategy.pdf

[2] https://communityenergyengland.org/files/document/353/1575564696_CatalysingPeople-poweredEnergyinYorkshireandtheHumberReport2019.pdf

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New report highlights impact of digital exclusion on access to education and employment in the North East

A new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has highlighted the impact digital exclusion in the North East LEP area is having on people’s ability to access education, skills and employment.

Commissioned by the North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), ‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ looks specifically at the economic and skills-related impacts of digital exclusion in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Published alongside IPPR North’s ‘Addressing digital exclusion in North East England’ research paper, the LEP’s digital exclusion report was carried out by New Skills Consulting.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, it shows more than 200,000 people in the North East LEP area have either never used the internet, or have not used it in the last three months. It also reinforces existing findings that show people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by digital exclusion.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘Whilst we know digital exclusion is a problem in the North East, the coronavirus pandemic has really exacerbated the issue and highlighted why we must address it now.

“This report has allowed us to see the scale of the problem for the first time, and how COVID-19 has extended the gap that already existed in our region.

“If we truly want to level up the country and provide opportunities for all, we must address the issue of digital exclusion, and we must do it in partnership with businesses, education, the voluntary sector, and the public sector.”

‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ highlights that whilst the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, it has also widened the gap in areas like education and employment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lack of in-person support during the pandemic has made it easier for people to withdraw, and limited access to digital devices has prevented people from accessing online training, job searches, and interviews.

Employers have also raised concerns about a lack of digital skills within the region’s workforce. A survey by the Department for Education in 2019 found 20% of North East employers found it difficult to recruit applicants with computer literacy or basic IT skills. 26% said they found it difficult to recruit people with advanced or specialist IT skills.

The report also looks at the effectiveness of existing initiatives to address digital exclusion, arguing that the current system is complex, with overlapping programmes and gaps in support. It also argues that much of the support available quickly becomes out of date and doesn’t meet the learning needs of people using the services.

Michelle continued: “If we look to countries like Finland, digital literacy is something that’s taught from kindergarten, it has the same level of importance as reading, writing and math’s.

“Whatever our agreed approach moving forward, we need to recognise that this issue isn’t just something that affects young people; it impacts people of all ages and at every stage in their lives. If people can’t access online tools to extend their learning, or can’t search and apply for employment opportunities online, how can they get into work or move up the career ladder from low-skill to high-skill jobs?”

The report puts forward a series of recommendations, recognising that the region’s response requires the support of academia; business; the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector; and the public sector.

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) and member of the North East LEP Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), said: “Some of the recommendations in our report can be delivered regionally, but others will need the support of Government and other stakeholders.

“We need to address the problem of access to digital devices, and how connectivity can be an additional barrier to people using digital services.

“We also need to prioritise education in digital skills from an early age, and ensure it becomes part of the curriculum in further and higher education.

“And by working with the business community, we can begin to develop a common framework for basic digital skills that meets the needs of employers.”

Michelle concluded: “Using the insights from this report and the IPPR North report, we plan to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge, agree a collective vision for the North East, and draw up the key areas we need to prioritise and address.

“This is a huge challenge for our region, and we won’t be able to tackle it all in one go. But we can start the process and make sure no one in the North East is left behind because they lack access to the digital skills, equipment and infrastructure so many of us take for granted.”

Read the Executive Summary of Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area by visiting the North East Evidence Hub.