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North East LEP publishes new regional trade and export report

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce, has published a new report outlining how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out the region’s ambition to increase the percentage of North East businesses that export goods and services from 6% to 9.5% by 2030.

It also sets a target to increase the percentage of gross value added (GVA) from the export of good and services from 33% to 35% by 2030.

The new report, which is funded by DIT and published in collaboration with the North East England Chamber of Commerce, has been developed to align with government’s planned Trade and Export strategy, and the upcoming Northern Powerhouse Trade and Export strategy.

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The commitment to drive trade set out in the Strategic Economic Plan would create a stronger North East economy and deliver more and better jobs through export-led growth. We therefore want to support more businesses to seek out new opportunities in global markets.

“This report focuses on the areas of the world where we have the most opportunity and the actions we need to take to grow our economy.

“It shows that the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union has had a severe impact on the region’s economy, so now is a good time to look to the future and make sure we support business to move forward with confidence.

“Whilst we are seeing positive signs of the economy beginning its recovery, we must take a long-term view on how we continue to strengthen the North East’s position and deliver on the targets set out in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.”

Approximately 4,500 businesses in the North East region (North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas) currently export goods and services. In 2018, the North East exported £13 billion in goods and a further £7 billion in services. More than 168,000 jobs in the region are reliant on exporting.

The North East LEP’s report highlights businesses engaged in exporting tend to pay their employees 7% more than the national median wage. They are also 21% more productive compared to the UK average.

Richard Baker, Strategy and Policy Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The government has set out its intention to develop a trade and export strategy later this year and it will be crucial to the long term economic fortunes of the North East that it supports businesses in the region to grow their exporting.

“Businesses in the North East LEP area that currently export goods and services typically generate over £15bn of revenue from exporting each year. We want to see that figure increase, and we want to see more of the region’s businesses actively engaged in exporting, and our region reaching out across the world. 

“We worked with more than 50 exporters, trade groups and research institutions to develop this evidence about where opportunity lies, and the set of proposals to strengthen support in the region. It provides a clear direction of travel and starting point to create a stronger export culture and more coordinated set of support services in the North East.

“By increasing levels of international trade we will be supporting government’s levelling up agenda, and in turn creating more opportunities for businesses based in our region, and those looking to invest here.”

Julie Underwood​, Executive Director of International Trade at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber is delighted to be involved in this important piece of work, which reinforces the vital role  exporting plays in our region and how we all need to work together to maximise the opportunities which are available for our businesses overseas.

“To successfully increase exports, we know that a clear strategy is needed which details which sectors and countries offer the most potential and a long term plan to implement this.

“The regional report provides an important step consolidating our collective response and input into how we can drive regional growth through international trade.”

Victoria Gemmill, DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team and Head of North East Region, said: “The strategy is a valuable piece of work aligning with our ambition at the Department of International Trade to drive economic growth through trade and investment opportunities and demonstrates the significance of export growth in levelling up.

“Through targeting sector and market specific opportunities as well as building export capabilities of local businesses, we can collectively enable the full advantage of trade opportunities to be utilised to deliver sustainable growth for the region.”

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out five strategic priorities for the region, which include developing the export potential of the North East’s growing sector strengths in advanced manufacturing, offshore energy and subsea, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, digital, and knowledge intensive services; whilst focusing on a small number of opportunity markets.

It also sets out the ambition to create an ecosystem in the North East that brings together existing exporting support, providing a joined up and accessible approach for businesses.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is available to view here.

The Executive Summary is available to view here.

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In conversation with Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel, about the LEP’s annual review and importance of creating career opportunities for all

We’re used to hearing about the tremendous opportunities on the horizon in the North East, in sectors such as digital, advanced manufacturing, and health and life sciences. The North East LEP is working with a wide range of educators, businesses, and policymakers to make sure people across the region can access these jobs – and that the opportunity is open to everyone.

We talked to Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East (comprising Sunderland, Northumberland and Hartlepool Sixth Form colleges) about the drive to provide good jobs for each and every person in our region.

For the last few years, learning institutions from across the region have been involved in an innovative scheme partnering education and business.

Through the Ford Next Generation Learning project, students have worked with employers on projects that tackle real industry challenges. Together they have collaborated to support our region’s young people to develop and apply skills in areas such as maths and English, and to enhance their leadership and teamwork abilities.

One young person said they’d met as many as 10 to 15 employers in the first six weeks of their academic year alone, from guest speakers to industry professionals assisting with projects. .

It’s a great example of how students, businesses, educators and the local community can work together to help people discover careers that could become their future.

We’re hoping to see plenty of opportunities emerge in the North East in the near future. The region could be a home for more and better jobs in offshore energy and subsea, advanced vehicle manufacturing, modern methods of construction, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and digital, to name but a few.

We want each and every person in the North East to aspire to those jobs.

We want each and every child to understand the possibilities that are out there for them, regardless of background or circumstances.

And we want each and every adult to have the chance to re-train, and enjoy a fulfilling new career.

That journey starts early. Research tells us that our ideas about who we are and what we can do in our lives are shaped by the age of seven. So starting careers guidance at nine or 10 is too late. Our North East Ambition pilot worked with 70 primary schools to teach young children about careers, and we’ve already seen exciting signs of impact. It’s an opportunity to shape attitudes for the better across the North East.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced us to adapt how we worked, but it never dampened our commitment. Our Skills Advisory Panel agreed to meet weekly in the initial stages of lockdown, facilitating conversations between employers, government, the NHS and education providers. We collected monthly data and intelligence, and helped our partners support young people into the next phase of their learning or training.

We’ve seen an incredible amount of collaboration, adaptation and generosity from our community during this time. This included bringing education online, developing virtual work experience programmes, and even helping students fund laptops for home study.

However, the work is not yet done. In our Local Skills Report in March, we noted that many businesses were expecting to make redundancies or close sites this year. And the damage caused by the pandemic has heavily affected over-50s, who may find themselves unemployed despite having incredible experience and skills. We need to provide support and re-training opportunities, but also think about the whole person, and what they want and need.

Across the North East, we’ve demonstrated the amazing things we can do when we work together. But we want to think bigger. We want to tap into that powerful collective spirit even more, and give every person in this region the chance to craft better skills, better jobs, and better lives.

Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Skills Advisory Panel and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East.

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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.

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Queen’s birthday honours recognition for North East LEP chief executive Helen Golightly

One of the region’s most respected leaders has been awarded an OBE for services to business and the regional economy.

Helen Golightly, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), has been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list, which marks the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the UK.

Under Helen’s leadership, partner engagement with the North East LEP and the region’s Strategic Economic Plan has helped deliver over 71,000 jobs since 2014 the employment gap between the North East and England (excluding London) has reduced by 26%.

Helen has been instrumental in securing over £2billion investment for the region, resulting in the delivery of 140 capital and 40 revenue projects securing 20,000 more jobs for the region.

The Coronavirus pandemic has seen Helen play a leading role in the region’s response, bringing together the public, private, education and voluntary sectors to form the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group. The Group’s work secured region-wide support for a staged recovery plan to build confidence, stabilise the economy and help businesses adapt to the new normal.

Helen has been Chair of the £120m North East Fund since its inception in 2016 and helped design this important access to finance initiative to ensure SMEs could raise the start-up and growth capital needed. During her time as the Chief Executive of the North East Combined Authority (NECA), she cemented public private relationships to drive forward economic plans together.

Helen said: “I feel proud and humbled to be recognised in this way. I would like to dedicate this honour to the whole team at the North East LEP, who strive to increase investment and improve skills, job opportunities and purposeful business support across the North East to improve the lives of others. 

Focused, collaborative work with partners has never been more important as we emerge from the pandemic, and I feel privileged to play a role in responding to the economic impact and opportunities that lie ahead for our very special region.”

Lucy Winskell OBE DL, chair of the North East LEP, said: “Helen is utterly deserving of this honour, having worked quietly but tirelessly to advocate for the North East at the highest levels and ensure that the business community has what it needs to not just survive but thrive.

“Extremely well respected, Helen’s vision and commitment is inspiring – it’s a privilege to work alongside her as we focus on our joint ambition to help the region succeed.”

North East LEP vice-chair Heidi Mottram added: “This accolade is a real achievement and is testament to the leadership and innovation Helen has shown. Thanks to her efforts, the North East LEP is recognised as a national exemplar for its work in skills and business growth. We’re delighted for her.”

Sarah Glendinning, CBI regional director, said: “Helen has always had the region’s best interests at heart and her work continues to make a genuine and measurable difference within the business community and to the economy. Despite the significance of her contribution, Helen is incredibly unassuming so it’s even more fantastic to see her receive this personal recognition and honour.”


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Emma Ward – Research, Evidence and Analysis Programme Manager – discusses the new Economic Analyst role at the North East LEP (applications close 17 June, 9am)

For the North East to grow a modern, diverse and entrepreneurial economy it’s essential we continue to understand the industrial structure of our region, the performance of the regional business community and the makeup of our workforce.

We do that by accessing data, research and insights, which we then translate for colleagues here at the LEP and partners across the region. It provides us the evidence base we need to make informed decisions to drive growth in the North East economy.  

Throughout the past eighteen months, the research and analysis team at the North East LEP has had an increasingly important role to play and we know that role is only going to become more prominent. The UK’s exit from the European Union and the coronavirus pandemic has seen high demand for accurate and timely data as will the strategy and policy work that informs our recovery

Because of this, we’re expanding our team to include an Economic Analyst. The new role within our team will ensure we can continue to provide our partners in business, government and academia with the insight to lead our region’s economic recovery.

As a small team, we’re looking for people that share our passion for building a stronger North East economy using a robust evidence base. We’re looking for someone who is naturally inquisitive and can identify areas for further exploration, for example opening up new data sources and exploring innovative datasets such as social listening.   

Communicating our evidence activities in a clear and accessible way is vital for them to be effective – especially as we work across a range of sectors and industries. We’d welcome applications from experienced analysts with an interest or background in data visualisation too.

The North East LEP is a collaborative organisation and we work very closely with colleagues and partners across the region. We are therefore looking for people that enjoy working as part of team and have experience of building relationships with internal and external partners. This is one of our four core values which are embedded into everything we do. These values are Think Bigger, Better Together, Do the Right Thing and Make a Difference.

We’d like to work alongside someone that can help bring data to life and really demonstrate how it impacts people living and working in our region.

More information about the role can be found here. Interested applicants should also visit northeastdatahub.co.uk to see some examples of the research and data we gather about the region.

This is an exciting time to join the North East LEP, particularly in the research and analysis team. The economic strategies and policies being developed to lead the region’s economic recovery are all underpinned by strong research, economic analysis and evaluation.

For an informal discussion about the role, feel free to contact me directly by emailing [email protected].

Find out more about the Economic Analyst role and apply here

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Support available to develop innovation projects in preparation for future funding opportunities

North East organisations are being offered support from a team of innovation experts to prepare projects for future funding opportunities. Alan Welby, Innovation Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how a pipeline of the most promising regional innovation projects and programmes in the North East is being championed on a national and international stage.

Securing funding for innovation-focused projects is a highly competitive process. Funding calls are regularly issued nationally or internationally, and bids must be extremely focused and well-developed if they’re to be successful.

That’s why we’re putting together a pipeline of North East projects which have the potential to have a real regional, national, and even international impact. Projects can come from any sector, but the important factor is that they are large in scale and have the promise to be successfully rolled out to domestic, commercial or industrial markets, and can help to increase investment in R&D and create new jobs in the North East.

The North East LEP can offer organisations support to ensure business cases are in the best possible shape to secure future investment and will act as a critical friend to help develop project ideas. We will help partners to identify public and private funding opportunities and ensure alignment with emerging strategic priorities. When funding calls open, we aim to have strong businesses cases ready from our pipeline and champion what our region has to offer.

We’ve already supported a range of North East innovation projects to secure £62.5 million of funding to support business case development and to move projects on to delivery. Examples include Northern Gas Network’s InTEGRel project and the Driving the Electric Revolution Centre North East project.

We’re now inviting more organisations to come forward and apply to join our official Innovation Project Pipeline, so if you have a project that’s in development, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re particularly keen to hear about projects that complement the North East’s existing strengths in digital, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing or energy, as these are areas where we know the region has the potential to be a world-leader.

Working together as a region gives us strength, and by combining the drive and ambition of North East innovators with the expertise of the North East LEP team, we can set up our region’s businesses for success.

Find out more about joining the Innovation Project Pipeline.

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Stepping into the world of work: making it easier for businesses to deliver work placements for young people

A new work experience framework, which will help employers work together with schools and colleges to give young people experience of the world of work, is now available in the North East. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how it works.

Providing young people with first-hand experience of the world of work is something which can help set them up for the future. It allows them to explore a range of jobs, develop skills which they’ll need once they leave school, and it helps to break down stereotypes and preconceptions about the kinds of roles that they see themselves going into.

For employers, it builds links with the next generation and allows you to raise the profile of your business and sector with tomorrow’s workforce. But creating a work experience programme isn’t always easy.

We know that businesses in our region recognise the importance of work experience, but we also know that some businesses want support to develop relationships with schools and to make sure that their placements are giving young people a really meaningful experience of the workplace which builds on what they learn in the classroom.

This is why the North East LEP team has worked with employers, schools and colleges to develop a new work experience framework.

The framework is freely available online for employers and schools to use, and it provides a structure for placements, making sure that young people get a meaningful experience, and helping businesses to carry on with their work experience programmes in the wake of the pandemic.

The framework contains 12 modules which cover topics such as goal-setting and employer feedback. It helps schools and businesses to structure their placements, including options for face-to-face or virtual experiences, or a blended approach. And it helps students to prepare for their placement, meaning that they begin with an understanding of your business and what they want to gain from their time with you.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more businesses are producing videos and 360 degree tours, and the framework shows you how to make the most of these and make them part of a comprehensive work experience programme.

The framework can be adapted to suit businesses of different sizes and in different sectors, and if you would like more support to create your work experience programme, the skills team at the North East LEP is on hand to help.

We piloted the framework with the help of 750 secondary students who told us that it helped them to understand expectations in the workplace, and their own strengths and skills. “It was a brilliant experience. I would love to do it again. Thank you so much,” said one student.

The response from businesses has been really positive as well, with 100% of businesses that took part in the pilot saying that the framework was easy to use, flexible and adaptable.

As businesses, schools and communities begin to recover from the impact of COVID-19, the importance of high quality work experience for young people can’t be forgotten. Now this framework is available, I hope as many businesses as possible will make use of it and help young people in our region take their first steps into the world of work.

The North East LEP’s work experience framework is available at NorthEastAmbition.co.uk.

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Remedying skills shortages in the health and life sciences sector

The new North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy aims to double the number of jobs in this sector in the North East, and also to double the number of businesses active in the sector. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Interim Programme Manager for Health and Life Sciences, Karen Burgess, explains how the sector is working together to tackle barriers to growth, including a shortage of specialist skills.

Health and life sciences is an area where the North East has significant strengths, and it’s an area where we know there’s real potential for growth. We launched the North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy earlier this year to identify the opportunities for expansion, and also to tackle any challenges that might be in the way of businesses creating more and better jobs in our region.

One challenge which was quickly identified is skills. We carried out research with medicines manufacturing businesses in our region and found that, while most businesses operating in this sector have plans to expand their workforce, many of them experience difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff with the skills they need.

Of course, plans to recruit more staff is a positive, and will help us reach the goal of increasing the number of jobs in the sector from 12,000 to 24,000 by 2030. However, as businesses grow and advertise more vacancies, the existing skills shortage will be exacerbated.

Our research into skills needs of these businesses found that:

  • Just over 80% of the medicines manufacturing companies that we spoke to currently have vacancies at their North East sites
  • 55% of organisations have had trouble filling vacancies due to candidates lacking digital skills
  • 100% of organisations we spoke to have experienced difficulties filling vacancies due to candidates lacking technical skills, experience or qualifications
  • 72% of employers pay the apprenticeship levy but the total number of apprenticeships in the sector is low

It’s clear that we need to take action to help businesses recruit more effectively and upskill their existing workforce where necessary. That’s why the North East LEP has formed the new Health and Life Sciences Skills Group, where industry, educators and skills awarding bodies are working together to build a skills framework to enable the sector to grow and thrive in our region.

The group aims to build stronger links between employers and education providers, so that we can make sure that students are equipped with the skills that employers will need in the future, and that businesses have the opportunity to help inspire young people about the range of careers paths on offer to them.

By collaborating to address the issues employers face around the recruitment and upskilling of staff, we can grow our pool of talent with the specialist skills needed in the sector and support the workforce to adapt as the manufacturing process becomes digitalised, increasing the need for people to acquire more digital skills. The group will also support the next phase of our research to understand the skills needs of other areas of the life sciences sector.

By bringing industry and educators together, I’m confident we can remedy the problems raised by skills shortages, and build a healthier, stronger environment for businesses to grow.

Read the Health and Life Sciences Skills Report here, and email [email protected] to find out how to get involved in the Health and Life Sciences Skills Group.

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No limits: helping primary pupils fulfil their potential

A year on from the start of a new project to improve careers guidance for primary pupils, Matt Joyce, Regional Lead – North East Ambition, at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, takes a look at what’s been achieved so far.

There’s increasing evidence to show that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. And by the age of 10, many young people have already made career limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14.

That’s why, in 2019, we began working with 70 primary schools in the North East to pilot a new approach to careers education for younger school children.

The Career Benchmarks: Primary Pilot project builds on what we learnt when the North East was the pilot region for implementing the Gatsby Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks – which lay out requirements for different elements of careers guidance, from encounters with employers, to engagement with further and higher education providers – in secondary schools and colleges. The project has had a remarkable impact on the quality of careers guidance young people receive and we knew there was the potential to adapt the framework to meet the needs of younger children as well.

In September 2019 we began work on the primary pilot, testing the new framework with primary schools spanning a range of geographies and settings. Each school carried out an initial audit of their careers provision and we worked with Careers Leaders to identify gaps in provision and to create an action plan for each school.

So, has the project had the impact we hoped for? It’s been more than a year since we set out on this journey and we’re now in a position to look at what’s been achieved so far and whether it is helping primary-age children to learn about the full range of possibilities open to them in the future.

The interim evaluation which we commissioned has shown evidence of a positive impact on pupils already, with some massive improvements in young people’s ability to talk about and understand their career options being reported. 81% of the schools surveyed said that pupils better understand the links between what they are studying and future career options, and 89% that pupils are able to talk more about their career plans.

There’s been a jump in primary Careers Leaders’ confidence as well, with 88% saying they now rate their knowledge, skills and understanding as good or very good, compared with 10% when we started.

The evaluation also shows significant progress is being made against the Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks, and 82% of survey respondents say careers-related learning is now part of their school’s general curriculum, and no longer a standalone activity or an extra-curricular specialism. Activity also ranges across the key stages, while remaining age-appropriate.

These improvements are shown across the board, in schools with a range of Ofsted ratings and with diverse cohorts of pupils. And the work within primary schools links directly with the Benchmarks framework which is in place in secondary and further education, easing young people’s transition from primary school and giving them a better baseline of understanding and experiences when they start secondary school.

Going forward we’ll be implementing the various recommendations that came out of the evaluation and I hope that, once the pilot finishes in just under a year’s time, we’ll be able to expand our work to help more primary schools improve their careers guidance.

There’s currently no statutory requirement for primary schools to provide careers guidance but we know it’s vital if young people are to be given the best possible start in life. The engagement we’ve seen from the 70 schools involved in the pilot has been amazing and shows that they see the importance of this work as well. I hope that, together, we can help more children reach their full potential.

Read the Career Benchmarks: Primary Pilot evaluation report on the North East Data Hub here.