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In conversation with Liz Bromley, CEO of leading national college group NCG

How has NCG, and the broader education sector in the North East, had to adapt and change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

Since the start of the pandemic there have been many policy changes. These have fluctuated from ‘colleges are open’ and ‘colleges are closed’ to ‘colleges are partially closed but open to vulnerable students and children of key workers’. Following this last lockdown, the category of vulnerable young learners has expanded to include those that have limited access to IT or study space.

We’ve been really challenged by the constant changes in guidance and we’ve had to make sure that whatever the scenario, we can continue with the core business of educating our students without it being too difficult for them to engage with us.

The biggest shift has been digital transformation; we’re now able to teach 100 per cent remotely, in the same way we can work 100 per cent remotely. We’ve had to be really mindful that while most staff have access to good quality laptops, strong broadband connections and IT support, that’s not necessarily the case for all our students. So we’ve had to be fleet of foot and responsive to policy changes, but also really holistic in terms of thinking about what digital transformation means.

We’ve also had to adapt where it comes to exams. In 2020 GCSE and A Levels were cancelled. We were then told, categorically, that GSCE and A Levels would take place in summer 2021, and now we’ve been told that they won’t.

Throughout all of this we’ve been delivering vocational skills and BTECs – which are quite often the ones employers are most interested in – and they’ve almost been forgotten about. Ultimately, we’ve had to make some really big decisions to fill the gaps in guidance and policy.

Do you envisage some of the changes continuing when COVID-19 restrictions are eventually lifted?

Absolutely. Rye Hill House – which sits at the top of the campus of Newcastle College – is where my office is, along with the rest of the NCG senior and core central services teams. We’ve done some sums in terms of how much money we can save by not running that site as a head office anymore and actually opening it up to employers, to apprentices and to enterprise. Yes, people will still be able to go into the office, but it will be a hot desk environment.

NCG has seven colleges; two in London, one in the Midlands, two in the North West and two in North East. I would normally get round and visit each of those sites over the course of a fortnight. Well now I can visit them all in one day, and I can do all of that without spending anything on mileage, train fares, or hotel costs. The way we work now is much more cost effective, and much quicker.

The combined effect is that NCG is contributing to the green agenda by creating less vehicle emissions, using less electricity and gas to keep our buildings warm, and not travelling, unnecessarily, around the country. All of those things are making us think about cost efficiency, decarbonisation and contributing to the green industrial revolution.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted teaching and learning at NCG?

If a year ago someone had said to me, ‘do you think you should set up a strategic project to try and get NCG into blended learning and flexible working?’, it would probably have taken us around 24-36 months to roll it out.

In March 2020 the country went into lockdown and within ten days we were teaching remotely. We were also working remotely and becoming competent at this. That whole mindset around big strategic decisions taking years to implement has changed; through necessity we’ve proven this is not the case.

Our fantastic teachers, who may have never thought online tuition was a feasible option, are doing fabulous things with online platforms. Many of them are using YouTube, for example, to record videos of themselves cutting hair, applying beauty techniques, dancing, and even building brick walls. All our teachers have learned how to deliver what they do in a classroom at home, with a camera.

I think the pandemic has demonstrated that teaching and learning is there for all of us. Even when we’re working we can learn very quickly to educate ourselves and work in new ways.

Of course we’ve had to be really conscious of the quality. When everything is face-to-face it’s very easy to drop into a classroom and look at students’ faces and know if they’re engaged. Online it’s much harder, so we’ve had to be inventive in terms of our quality assurance. We’ve launched lots of student engagement surveys so we’re getting feedback in a variety of ways to make sure the teaching and learning is fit for purpose.

Until the coronavirus pandemic there were just two functional skills our students needed, maths and English. Well now there are three – English, maths and digital literacy. We’re now in a world where if you are not digitally literate you are as illiterate as someone that can’t spell or add up. The whole area of digital literacy in helping people become employable is another change to our teaching and learning.

The big question is what this means for the future curriculum and skills. What are jobs post-pandemic and post-Brexit going to look like? They’re certainly not going to look how they did twelve months ago. What happens to our travel, tourism and hospitality sector, for example? These are all things we are focusing on and need to address.

Has the coronavirus pandemic led to a change in the skills and/or qualifications businesses are looking for?

There are some great examples of this. In the construction industry, for example – where you might think digital literacy isn’t as important – we are now considering the shape of construction of the future and more sustainable methods of building. The green agenda very much impacts on the way we think about architecture and constructions materials of the future.

The same discussion is happening around motor vehicles and today’s focus has changed to electric. And where we have our Rail Academy, we need to be thinking about hydrogen trains of the future.

We’ve been having some very interesting conversations around travel and tourism. What if tourism trends focus on staycations? How do we recalibrate the curriculum to adapt to a post-COVID world where more people are conscious about the impacts of travel, and might want to focus more on the UK as a holiday destination.

In short, the pandemic has caused us to reframe our curriculum so that it absolutely meets regional and employers’ needs. We need businesses to help shape this so we can provide them with graduates who are employable and have the right technical skills for a future world.

How can colleges and the education sector support the economic recovery of the North East?

Education is an important gap filler when people are unemployed, but to make it more than that we need to make sure we’re reskilling and up-skilling people. We need to understand what employers see as the skills gaps and educate people to fill them.

We also need to think about skills for the workplace, which many of our young people are simply not learning because they’re working from home. For a huge number of new school leavers and new graduates, their first job is in their bedroom. They’re not learning skills like how to contribute in meetings, how to take notes, how to respond to body language and other non verbal cues from managers and senior staff members. They’re not learning about the politics of the office.

It’s not just about the technical skills for the workplace, it’s also about making sure that young people are really ready to engage in a professional context. Again, we need employers to help us with that.

How can businesses in the North East work more closely with NCG?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve repurposed Rye Hill House so it now houses our Apprenticeship Hub, Enterprise Hub and our new Synergy Hub.

The Synergy Hub is where we really want employers from the Newcastle and Gateshead area to come in and interact with our staff, students, and curriculum developers so they’re helping us deliver the right curriculum to match the business need.

We are looking at being far more open and inviting employers to come in and really be at the heart of the curriculum offer. We want to work in partnership with businesses and big employers to create national apprenticeship schemes with lots of options for different qualifications at different levels.

Further education is being mooted as the key to economic recovery post Brexit and post-COVID. But we can’t be the key to economic recovery if we aren’t doing it in partnership with employers. For me, having employers at the heart of what we do, what we plan, and how we deliver our curriculum, is absolutely essential.

We’re really keen for employers to contact us and talk to us about their wants, their needs, their ideas, and we will do our level best to work in partnership to deliver them.

How is NGC supporting the call for a green recovery from COVID-19, inline with government’s green industrial revolution and the UK’s target to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050?

We’re doing it in two ways; one, as an employer of two and a half thousand staff across the country, and two, as an educator of forty five thousand students across the country.

We want to make sure that what we do as an employer and a workforce contributes to the net zero carbon emissions target. We want to travel less, we want to use less building space, and we want to be more innovative in the ways we engage with people.

We also want to teach the courses of the future that will enable our students to think greener and more sustainably. For example, opening up courses that focus on conservation, agriculture, woodland management, and considering how a green industrial revolution feeds into construction, automotive, rail, travel and tourism, and the food and catering parts of our offer.

How do we reframe our energy courses so they’re looking at more sustainable energy sources, like wind farming and subsea, and less at traditional methods?

So I think we do it both ways; by practicing what we teach by being a good workforce and a good employer, but also teaching what is needed to make sure this green revolution is supported by the FE sector.

Liz Bromley is CEO of leading national college group NCG.

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In conversation with Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, about the MIT REAP program

The North East LEP and key partners are currently participating in the prestigious Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) led by MIT. Here Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, tells us more and explains why it’s important for the region.

Please can you explain what the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) is and how it came about?

The professors who founded the MIT REAP program were interested in helping regions understand how to harness their innovation, create jobs locally, and make a real difference. This was in response to the recession of 2009/10 when lots of regional leaders around the world were thinking about how to build back their economies.

MIT REAP was launched as a two-year program in 2012 to answer these sorts of questions and we were pleased to welcome teams from Scotland and London in the early cohorts. When the MIT REAP program created significant amounts of international interest – from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan and China to West Africa and Latin America – I became involved in a faculty and diplomat’s role.

Almost ten years later, the MIT REAP program is going from strength to strength with teams from around the world and we believe we are going to face similar needs in the 2020s to those we saw in 2010. We already have regions and organisations asking how to rebuild and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship: this time we are focusing on inclusivity too.

As a Brit on the team, I’m delighted that we have now created a ‘lite’ version of the global MIT REAP to focus on the UK. This pilot runs for just a year and is focused solely on the role that LEPs in England can play to convene stakeholders and collaborate to create regional economies that can bounce back and flourish.

The program aims to help regions foster an evidence-based, practical approach to strengthening innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. What do you mean by the word ‘ecosystem’ and why is cross-sector/multi-stakeholder collaboration so important in making economic conditions better?

One of the words that MIT uses is ‘ecosystems’ in order to convey the ways in which we see innovation happening in the world.

In an ecosystem, which is a very organic concept, there are a variety of actors leading to a multi-stakeholder model, with roles for the government, local enterprise partnerships, large corporations, universities and entrepreneurs. These aren’t always the roles they think they should play but we help them understand their ecosystem roles.

Critically, we ask the entrepreneurs – as this is where our main focus lies – what they need to be successful with their enterprises. To thrive, regions need a spectrum of entrepreneurs, from those who form micro to small SMEs, often the backbone of a regional economy, through to the high-growth, high-tech innovation-driven enterprises, such as those which might spin out from universities.

All of these voices need to be heard, and part of the magic of MIT REAP is this cross-stakeholder discussion. Ultimately, no single organisation is in charge of the ecosystem, and no one individual has all the answers.

The North East LEP is one of six sub-regions in England chosen for the MIT REAP ‘lite’ pilot. How does this differ to the usual two-year learning engagement with MIT?

As a Brit, I was very keen to bring the insights of the MIT REAP Global Program back to the motherland in a way that we could convey the key frameworks and focus on entrepreneurial action, but in a shorter timeframe. This is how the MIT REAP-UK ‘lite’ pilot, supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was born.

The partners of choice are ten LEPS across England which form the six teams taking part, with the North East LEP a leading player of one of these teams. We are looking to see how much we can achieve in one year rather than two, given the challenges everyone has been facing in 2020, and the need to start re-building in 2021.

What’s the vision for the program once the pilot ends in England and what outcomes will the program achieve?

The key outcomes of the UK pilot will be the innovation and entrepreneurship impacts that will result from the action plans that the regional teams devise and implement. MIT is all about real world impact and so we judge our efforts on how useful the LEP teams have found the frameworks and our advice.

Early signs are teams like the North East LEP’s have found the multi-stakeholder evidence-based approach useful to find a strategy that plays to the region’s strengths and will deliver results in the near term, which is what we all hope for in 2021. We’ve been really impressed by their work and approach so far.

For more information visit https://reap.mit.edu/reap-uk/.

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New business survey launched to assess impact of EU exit and coronavirus pandemic in the North East

The beginning of 2021 has been a challenging start to the year for many businesses. England entered another national lockdown at the end of December, and the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 December brought new rules and regulations impacting all businesses that operate in the European Union.

Because of this we have launched a brand new survey on the North East Growth Hub to find out how our region’s businesses have been impacted by the UK’s new trading agreement with the EU, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We want to find out what preparations, planning and changes organisations have been able to make during this very difficult time.

All the information shared with us will be fed back to government, ensuring North East businesses get the help and support they need.

One of the main things we want to understand is how the UK’s exit from the EU – and its new trading agreement with the bloc – has affected businesses in the North East. We know from previous surveys that many regional businesses had not prepared for the new rules, which came into force on 01 January this year. We’d like to know what the impact has been in areas such as customs procedures, paperwork relating to imports and exports, supply chain disruption, and data storage and transfer. We are also keen to know if this has opened up any new opportunities for businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be the main concern for most businesses in the North East. A large proportion of our region’s businesses have been forced to close because of the new national lockdown, and business owners have to – once again – look to new, innovative ways to engage with their customers.

Through this new survey we’d like to understand what measures businesses have taken to shield some of the impact of COVID-19; whether that’s been through stockpiling, furloughing staff, adopting new technologies, or introducing new products and services.

We’d also like to know if businesses plan to retain any of the changes they’ve made after we emerge from the pandemic, for example, remote working, or a greater focus on online retail.

Businesses can also let us know if they have benefitted from any of the government’s financial interventions, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, and grant payments. Importantly, we’d like to know from businesses if they think some of these measures should continue.

The final part of the survey focuses on business resilience. We know many North East businesses have made huge changes to adapt to our current situation, and we’d like to know the type of measures businesses have introduced. It could be a greater investment in IT and digital, more focus on crisis planning, investing in staff training, or introducing e-commerce. Whatever changes businesses have made, we’d like to know what they are and how effective they’ve been.

All the information we gather through this new survey will help us deliver the right support, to the right businesses, at the right time. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and all the information supplied will be treated confidentially.

You can access the Understanding how EU Transition and COVID-19 is impacting your business survey via this link.

Thank you in advance for sharing your feedback. If you have any questions about the survey you can contact us by emailing [email protected].

And do please remember that North East businesses looking for free, impartial, one-to-one business support and advice can book an appointment with our Growth Hub Connectors via www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk. The Growth Hub Connect team can guide you through the business support, and finance and funding available to help your business thrive in 2021.

By Emma Ward, Research and Evaluation Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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In conversation with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Regional Lead – North East Ambition, Matt Joyce; and College Hub Facilitator, Kim Smith, about the new WorldSkills UK Higher Technical Education Toolkit

In July of this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a major overhaul of higher technical education in Britain.

The announcement follows a government review that found higher technical education can help unlock the skills employers need and lead to highly skilled, well paid jobs for young people.

Part of the reason for the changes to higher technical education are a result of the low level of uptake in courses, and the outdated perception that this important route to employment is in some way inferior to gaining a degree, which is not the case at all.

One of the biggest differences will be the introduction of a new quality mark, signaling that technical education courses provide the skills employers need. This is really important as it demonstrates the key role industry plays in technical education, and how employer standards sit at their very heart.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership is well placed to promote higher technical education as a prestigious career route for young people thanks to its dedicated College Hub, which comprises all nine general FE Colleges and two of the largest sixth form institutions in North East LEP area. The North East LEP is also committed to the Independent Training Provider network through both the LEP’s Apprenticeship Group and Skills Advisory Panel.

Because of our role in supporting colleges to design and implement quality careers education – including the Good Career Guidance benchmarks – we were approached by The Gatsby Foundation and WorldSkills UK to contribute to their digital careers toolkit, which has a focus on higher technical education. The resource is designed specifically for career leaders, young people, parents and employers.

WorldSkills UK is an independent charity supported by 80 member countries that works to raise the standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people get the best start in work and life. We were very proud to be asked to take part and have the opportunity to profile the great work of our further education institutions in the North East.

Newcastle College, New College Durham and Education Partnership North East were invited to contribute to an educational video resource about higher technical education, with each institution providing a unique perspective on the matter. Newcastle College is part of the country’s largest college group and has higher education awarding powers. New College Durham leads the new North East Institute of Technology (IOT) – of which the North East LEP is a key strategic partner – and Education Partnership North East has a strong technical education offer and plays an integral role in influencing the national careers agenda through engagement on National FE & Skills steering groups.

The video looks at how higher technical education offers a route into skilled work, the subjects people can study, and raises awareness of the role further education colleges play in the delivery of higher technical qualifications that complement the higher education offers provided at universities. The video is available to view here.

It’s really important that careers leaders, young people, parents and employees and employers know more about technical education. The academic route to employment isn’t for everyone, and we need to remove the stigma around practical, skills based qualifications like Apprenticeships, T-levels, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas. They don’t ‘lock you in’ to sectors at too young an age, and they are not inferior qualifications; in fact outcomes suggest quite the opposite. They are excellent pathways for creating a positive identity for young people that are motivated by having a professional identity.

Higher technical qualifications provide entry into the jobs of the future. The first qualifications available from 2022 will focus exclusively on digital; supporting people into occupations like network engineers, cyber-security technologists and software developers. In 2023 more higher technical qualifications will be available, covering the construction and health and sciences sectors. It’s important we remember that some young people know what they want to do as a career, and that professional identity motivates them through education.

Within the North East LEP area we have a really strong offering around higher technical education and that will help us build a skilled workforce for the future, drive economic growth, and create more and better jobs for the North East.

By Matt Joyce, Regional Lead – North East Ambition, and Kim Smith, College Hub Facilitator, at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: Teesside University secures funding for employee-focused mental health and wellbeing platform

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study from Teesside University about its support for mental health platform, Discova, which aims to help thousands of UK employees overcome problems affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

Discova – an innovative digital learning and support platform that helps company leaders and their employees battle common mental health issues via peer-to-peer support – was set up by North East Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Lizzy Hodcroft, and entrepreneur Emma Reilly.

Staff from Teesside University worked with Lizzy and Emma to help Discova raise £300,000 from government’s Innovate UK programme to accelerate the company’s plans for growth and expansion.

Innovation Manager at Teesside University, Omar Al-Janabi, provided innovation support through the Enterprise Europe Network’s Innovate2Succeed programme. He also introduced Discova to Komodo – a Tyneside web development and app agency – and authored the collaborative bid to Innovate UK.

Working alongside Komodo, Discova plans to launch its pioneering AI-assisted app in the next 12 months, further develop its online technology, invest in new staff, and strike up partnerships with like-minded businesses.

Discova is an anonymous platform that allows employees suffering from common mental health issues to seek help from others who have experienced similar problems.

Laura Woods, Director of Academic Enterprise at Teesside University, said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Discova, particularly as Innovate UK receives more than 1,800 applications for funding per annum, only 2% of which are successful.

“Discova offer an essential service which makes a real impact on people’s lives and it is fantastic that they now have the opportunity to expand this vital support.”

To find out more about Discova, visit www.discovahealth.com.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

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In conversation with Paul Butler, Chief Executive of the North East Automotive Alliance, about the arrival of 5G and what it means for the North East

The North East LEP and the North East Combined Authority have long seen the opportunity for the North East offered by 5G technology. Can you explain what 5G technology is and how it works?

5G follows in the footsteps of 3G and 4G as the new generation of wireless technology. As well as being much faster, it also has greater capacity, which is why it’s so exciting. 5G has the potential to support new innovative services in all areas of our lives.

I believe there’s a real opportunity for the North East to become a regional test bed for 5G technologies, which is illustrated in the North East LEP’s innovative plan for a multi-site, digitally enabled Free Trade Zone.

The North East Automotive Alliance, of which you’re Chief Executive, along with your partners recently secured more than £2m in funding for a 5G technology pilot project. How will this be used and why is this such a coup for the region?

The continual drive for operational efficiency is a key focus for the automotive sector. This project addresses the next key innovation challenge in last mile logistics and builds on regional expertise in the deployment of automated logistic solutions such as indoor and outdoor automated guided vehicles which are used throughout the production process.

The funding we’ve secured from 5G Create, part of the wider £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT), is to support a 5G-enabled connected and automated logistics (CAL) pilot and proof of concept. Working with Nissan and Vantech, we plan to test an autonomous HGV, up to 40 tonnes, on a private road capable of carrying out 100 deliveries a day. 5G technology would remove the need for an in-vehicle safety driver, replacing it with a remote driver that can interact with vehicle should it come across an abnormal situation.

We anticipate this project will be a catalyst for something great for our region, a globally unique CAL test bed here in the North East. We have a unique mix of assets including a geographic concentration of manufacturing facilities, a fantastic road infrastructure and the new International Advanced Manufacturing Park, which offers the perfect environment to design, develop and manufacture the next generation of logistic solutions. When combined with our vehicle electrification strengths, this has the potential to deliver Zero Emission Automated Logistics, delivering against the UK Government’s Net Zero 2050 strategy and supporting the region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

How does this pilot project fit with the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan?

It’s about delivering operational efficiency to the automotive sector initially, but then extending it to other areas of advanced manufacturing in the region to really drive productivity and efficiency.

In addition, by attracting more R&D activities it will support the NEAA’s vision to become the location of choice for automotive investment in Europe, and a region that is recognised as a true automotive powerhouse with a very dynamic, forward looking and competitive supply chain; with strengths in research, development, and innovation in new automotive technologies and manufacturing processes.

This will undoubtedly support the key objective of the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan – to deliver 100,000 more and better jobs for the North East.

What difference will 5G technology make for businesses?

The North East automotive sector is a beacon of productivity; we have one of the most productive workforces across Europe and high levels of automation. My interest in 5G is around how it can support industry and specifically industrial digitisation.

A recent study by SMMT and KPMG stated the cumulative economic benefit of adopting digital technologies to the UK automotive sector could be £74bn by 2035. I’ve also seen a recent case study related to an overseas company that has delivered a 50% increase in productivity, a 22% increase in automation, and 27% increase in innovation over the past two years as a direct result of 5G and industrial digitalisation.

The combined opportunity of 5G and industrial digitalisation will enable businesses to realise the next significant step change in operational efficiency. As a result, North East businesses will become leaders in the adoption of digital technologies and this will make them more resilient and more competitive, securing their longer-term future.

What opportunity does this hold for the North East’s future?

The North East has ambitions to expand 5G across the region and position the region as the centre for 5G deployment in the UK. Sunderland, for example, is already committed to the expansion and rollout of 5G. The technology is currently being deployed across parts of the Nissan plant in readiness for the 5G CAL pilot and across the city centre.

I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to align regional ambitions and government strategy to really capitalise on the opportunity 5G provides. This will support industry and improve regional competitiveness, attract more R&D activity, improve regional capability, and help attract more talent to the region.

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North East LEP confirms North East Free Trade Zone bid

The North East will be submitting a Free Trade Zone bid designed to drive forward the regional economy, protect and enhance trade and investment potential and regenerate key sites in response to Government’s Free Ports bidding prospectus, announced this week.

Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), confirmed that a collaborative bid is being prepared following months of preparatory work with a range of partners including the Port of Blyth, Port of Sunderland, Port of Tyne, Newcastle International Airport, North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities, Business Durham, the CBI, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, University of Sunderland, Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, The Offshore Energy Catapult and NEXUS.

Lucy said: “Freeports offer the potential to generate new employment, revitalise our coastal areas and significantly boost the local economy. Over the past few months, we have been working very closely with a range of partners to prepare the ground for a collaborative bid which underlines the ambition and determination of the region to succeed.

“A North East Free Trade Zone bid will give us the opportunity to build on our industrial and logistics assets, support our supply chains and clusters and demonstrate our range of digital and innovation capabilities.

“The Government is committed to levelling up the UK economy with a focus on strengthening the economies of key industrial heartlands, such as the North East. This proposal will shore up some of our most disadvantaged communities. The region is working together to seize this opportunity to show why we are deserving of Freeport status and how it will strengthen our position on the national and international stage.”

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In conversation about the opportunities electrification offers the North East

In conversation with Paul Butler, Chief Executive of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA); and Ryan Maughan, founder and MD of AVID Technology, about the opportunities electrification offers the North East.

What is electrification, and why is this change in energy production and usage important for the North East?

Paul Butler:

“Electrification is a key part of the government’s plan to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson today (18 November) announced a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, and hybrid vehicles from 2035, signalling the government’s commitment to its Net Zero 2050 strategy.

“Today, the North East is leading the UK’s electrification agenda and is best placed to capitalise on the global electrification mega trend driven by regulatory compliance for CO2 reduction and the UK’s Net Zero 2050 strategy. This is thanks to Nissan’s foresight to invest in the Nissan LEAF and Battery Plant production at its Sunderland Plant back in 2010, with production starting in 2013; and innovative SMEs such as AVID Technology and Hyperdrive Innovation driving the early electrification activity.”

Ryan Maughan:

“Electrification – in simple terms – is the transition of vehicle powertrains from petrol and diesel, to powertrains that use electricity.

“It represents a huge opportunity for the North East because of the established sectors we have in automotive and energy, as well as the skills and expertise we have around the tech involved in electric vehicle powertrains.”

Paul, you are the Chief Executive of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) and Ryan, you are the founder of AVID Technology, which manufactures components for electric vehicles. Is the region well placed to capitalise on electrification? Why?

Paul Butler:

“Quite simply it’s our inherent capabilities. We are home to Europe’s most successful EV, the Nissan LEAF; to Europe’s first giga battery manufacturing facility, one of three EV battery manufacturing facilities in the North East; and we have the full power electronics, motors and drives (PEMD) capability here in the region – no other region in the UK can lay claim to that. In addition, the former Regional Development Agency, ONE NorthEast, invested in charging infrastructure and this investment has continued as Sunderland is home to the UK’s first superfast charging station, which opened in April 2019. In addition, 17 of the 21 automotive R&D sites across the region are focussed on electrification.

“We’re the only region in the country with these kinds of credentials. From this solid base we must continue to develop and build our capability and drive forward the electric agenda in the UK.”

Ryan Maughan:

“As a region we have real strengths in vehicle manufacturing, and a lot of talent and expertise in areas like motor controls, electric controls etc.

“The automotive industry is undergoing a huge transition because of electrification and we need to look at how we build capacity across the sector.

“The North East is well placed to respond because we already have one of the most established manufacturing sectors around electric vehicles in the world.

“There’s work to do to make sure we make the most of the transition to electrification and the opportunities it provides, but we already have a significant head start.”

How does electrification form part of the North East LEP’s wider decarbonisation and sustainability agenda?

Paul Butler:

“Vehicle omissions are one of the biggest contributors to CO2, so the electrification of the sector would have a huge impact. We see the automotive sector being an early adopter, with other sectors like construction, manufacturing, and rail following.

“Electrification is a huge opportunity to address decarbonisation and the climate emergency.”

Ryan Maughan:

“A big part of the North East Strategic Economic Plan is focussed on advanced manufacturing, and electrification has a major role to play in that, particularly in sectors like automotive, transport and aerospace.

“The North East used to be based around heavy industry, where as now the new industries we’re growing are focussed around renewable energy, the production of machinery for renewable power, and clean transportation. The North East is a trailblazer in that way.”

What are your plans for North East electrification and what kind of timescales are we looking at?

Paul Butler:

“It’s happening now, programmes like EV North and Driving the Electric Revolution are driving the agenda for our vibrant North East electrification community. Through EV North, our members have set out their strategy and vision for our future.

“However, electrification and the technology going into future vehicles open up the market for non-automotive companies. We need to raise awareness of these opportunities and support companies to enter the market to grow our regional capability and help businesses diversify and become more resilient.”

Ryan Maughan:

“My company, AVID Technology, has been involved in vehicle electrification for the past 15 years. Electrification has reached a tipping point in that demand from the market has really grown in recent years. It’s important that, as a company, we’re in the right place to ride that wave and meet the market demand.

“Looking wider, along with Paul and the North East LEP, I’m really passionate about growing the ecosystem in the North East for the benefit of all the businesses working in relevant sectors. I want to help build the talent pool, grow the cluster, and see our region at the forefront of the sector.

“The new legislation banning the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035 and the climate change crisis have had a combined impact. Things have to change and we must address air quality and CO2 emissions. The answer is electrification.

“The legislation has actually made it easier for manufacturers to invest in electrification. Before, many weren’t willing to take the risk and only a handful were focussing on R&D. What the legislation has done is level the playing field, it has de-risked electrification for OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) and there is now a lot of investment in electric powertrain development.”

How will this help with the region’s recovery post COVID-19?

Paul Butler:

“Electrification is a huge market opportunity for the North East. Forecasts just for the PEMD market suggest growth of around £5bn by 2025, largely driven by the automotive sector, but expanding to more than £80bn by 2050 as electrification becomes commonplace in other sectors.

“We do need to consider the impact of our exit from the EU, particularly around rules of origin which drives requirements for UK content. There is, however, a lot strategic focus across the UK on supply chain development from UK Government, the Automotive Council, SMMT, the North East LEP, the NEAA and others.”

Ryan Maughan:

“We need to build a robust regional economy that’s based on creating things – high value-added products that have a long-term sustainable future.

“We need to be encouraging school children to have an interest in STEM subjects and bringing the right inward investments into the region. We also need to create the right environment for start-ups, and do all of this with a long-term view.

“We have to work to the coherent, long-term vision set out in the North East Strategic Economic Plan and help transform the region to high value-added, high tech jobs in engineering and design, low carbon technologies, renewable energy and electrification.”

How can people get involved and find out more?

Paul Butler:

“If anyone would like a conversation about the electrification agenda, please contact the team at the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA). We really want to support companies to enter the market and contribute to its growth in the North East, and we have support programmes funded through ERDF to support SMEs on this too.”

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: Innovation Northumbria: Incubator

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study from Northumbria University about it’s new Innovation Northumbria: Incubator, which supports its flourishing community of student and graduate start-ups, and provides opportunities for business partners to offer mentoring and financial backing.

Opened in October 2019 next to the University’s main campus, the state-of the-art facility provides high-quality support for student and graduate entrepreneurs, giving them the best possible opportunity to establish and grow thriving businesses.

The initiative has already received financial support from Santander Universities UK, Sir James Knott Trust, North East Times Magazine, Space Group and the North East LEP.

Northumbria is looking for additional support to set up an Enterprise Club, where members can offer pro-bono advice and expertise, and an Enterprise Fund through which they can pledge financial support to help fledgling start-ups develop proof-of-concept and feasibility business plans.

The initiative reinforces Northumbria’s reputation as a university that champions enterprise and innovation through its teaching, and the support it offers start-ups through the Student and Graduate Enterprise Service. Pioneering courses such as Entrepreneurial Business Management – where students run their own businesses – and the student-led consultancy service delivered on the Business Clinic programme, have also established Northumbria as a leader in entrepreneurial education.

The University has been ranked in the top three for graduate start-ups in the UK – based on estimated turnover – since 2011, including five years in first place. Businesses developed by Northumbria graduates had an estimated turnover on £84 million in 2018/19.

Since 2009, Northumbria has supported the development of nearly 300 new businesses which have led to the creation of more than 1,000 jobs, the vast majority of which are in the North East.

To find out more about the Innovation Northumbria: Incubator visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/incubatorlaunch.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.