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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.

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Ellen Thinnesen appointed to lead North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has appointed a new Chair to its Skills Advisory Panel.

Ellen Thinnesen will lead the Skills Advisory Panel as it supports the drive to improve skills in the North East workforce.

Ellen is CEO of Education Partnership North East (EPNE), a partnership between Sunderland College, Hartlepool Sixth Form and Northumberland College.

EPNE is one of the largest college groups in the country with campuses across the North East region, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Tees Valley, and a combined student enrolments of over 21,500.

Ellen first began her career as a qualified nurse and has previously held high-profile positions within the education sector in Manchester and the Yorkshire and Humber regions.

In her previous role as Principal and Chief Executive of Sunderland College, her ambitious vision led the college through two highly successful mergers.

She has held numerous board positions in the education and not-for-profit sectors within the North East and beyond. She continues to contribute nationally to influence education policy and reform.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, said: “Improving skills in the North East workforce is fundamental to our economic future, especially now as we adapt to the significant challenges presented by COVID-19.

“Ellen is an inspiring leader who is truly passionate about making a difference and raising aspirations in the North East. We are delighted to welcome her as Chair of the Skills Advisory Panel.”

Ellen Thinnesen said: “I am honoured to be appointed as Chair of the Skills Advisory Panel. I look forward to working with the other panel members to continue to support the LEP to ensure we have a thriving skills system which meets the current and future needs of employers and drives the goal of creating more and better jobs for our region.”

Through the Skills Advisory Panel, the LEP is working to understand our region’s current and future skills needs and labour market challenges. The panel includes representatives from the North East LEP, the North East Combined Authority and North of Tyne Combined Authority, universities, colleges and local businesses. The work of the Skills Advisory Panel will feed directly into the development and delivery of the North East Local Industrial Strategy.

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Funding on offer for North East employers to help young people into work

New funding from government is on offer to help employers in the North East create job placements for young people who might otherwise be at risk of long-term unemployment.

Applications are now open for the Kickstart Scheme, which offers employers of any size, and operating in any sector, funding to create new, six month job placements for young people who are currently receiving Universal Credit.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains: “The aim of this new scheme is to help young people gain the skills, confidence and experience that they need in order to go on and find work once they’ve completed their job placement.

“It’s not just a short-term measure. In the North East we really want to provide high quality job placements that will not only give young people experience of the workplace, but also give them valuable opportunities to learn and progress.”

Businesses that want to create 30 or more job placements can apply directly to the Kickstart Scheme via www.gov.uk. For businesses that plan to create fewer than 30 placements, the North East LEP will apply on their behalf, grouping applications to create clusters of high quality placements across a range of sectors in the North East.

Organisations of any size are eligible to apply, as long as the placements they are creating help young people to become more employable, for example, by helping them develop their skills in the workplace, by providing support with interview preparation and CV development, or by providing careers advice and help with goal-setting.

The funding on offer includes 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions. There is also £1,500 per job placement available for setup costs, support and training.

Employers can spread the start date of the job placements until the end of December 2021.

Michelle Rainbow added: “We know that young people, many of whom have finished school, college or university during the pandemic, are facing a difficult time and might have seen their plans for the future turned upside down.

“That’s why programmes like this are so important, and why we are working with North East employers to help give the next generation the best possible start in what is one of the most difficult times any of us have seen.”

For more information about the Kickstart Scheme visit www.northeastlep.co.uk/kickstart.

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Proposed recovery and renewal deal for post-COVID North East published

North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group outlines proposals to transform and reimagine the North East economy

The North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group has published its Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East, which outlines how a thriving post-pandemic economy could potentially be created.

The group is made up of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities with the support of industry, to ensure the North East has strong economic leadership that acts quickly and collaboratively to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

Its proposal reflects on COVID-19 as a catalyst for change and details how the North East is ready and prepared to harness this catalyst to reinvigorate the North East economy.

The document sets out how, with the necessary support from the government, the North East could maximise opportunities to reach a goal of rapidly creating 100,000 good quality and secure jobs.

In the Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East, the Group is asking the government for £2.8bn to directly unlock half of required 100,000 additional jobs quickly. It also wants accelerated confirmation of existing business cases, including Transforming Cities funding; a commitment to joint working in areas where the North East can lead the national recovery, specifically low carbon energy; and flexibility within national programmes to allow for maximum leverage of local and national resources.

It is envisioned that this would keep people in jobs and training, support businesses and sectors to restart and recover, and support the transition of our communities and places as they adapt to living with COVID-19.

In the long-term, the deal sets out how our future economy can be built by maximising the potential of our existing assets and exploring new opportunities and by investing in digital and transport connectivity.

Opportunities identified in the document include a series of new projects to empower our rural and coastal areas and reinvigorate our town and city centres; achieving zero carbon emissions targets; utilising new digital construction and advanced manufacturing techniques; leading the national offshore wind revolution; and delivering the first digitally-connected Freeport for the UK.

The proposals give particular focus to jobs in the key areas of data ageing, low carbon, life sciences and pharma. This will help the transition to a stronger, higher-productivity and higher-wage economy, with people primed to adapt to challenges and new opportunities.

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “The Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East is an ambitious proposal that is designed to create a fair playing field for everyone.

“Through our Strategic Economic Plan, it was our goal to create 100,000 new and better jobs and we were doing well – with 68,000 more jobs in March 2020. But the impact of COVID-19 will reset that, which is why our Recovery and Renewal Deal is so important.

“We have presented a proposal that puts sustainability and decarbonisation at the core. The Recovery and Renewal Deal ensures communities continue to improve and provide a strong offer for people to live, work, study and visit.”

Sarah Glendinning, Regional Director for the CBI North East, said: “Now more than ever we need to be imaginative in our thinking, brave in our approach and robust in our delivery in order to recover and thrive.

“In the Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East, we have suggested the way to a new North East. Now is the time to come together to think bigger, greener, more inclusively and with innovation to reimagine our economy.”

Mayor Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Combined Authority said: “The pandemic has hit people hard. Young people need jobs. Businesses need investment. Yet we have the potential to be world leaders in offshore energy, advanced manufacturing, and sustainable transport.

“Our Recovery and Renewal deal will create 100,000 well paid jobs. It supports more affordable homes and better health. It’s what our region needs, and I want central government to back our plan and back the North East.”

Councillor Iain Malcolm, Chair, North East Combined Authority, said: “It is vital that we have a strong plan in place to help our businesses and communities to recover from this unprecedented crisis.

“The Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East builds on the work we are already doing with government and other partners nationally and regionally to unlock all available support and financial assistance and sets out a bold vision for future prosperity.”

A dedicated North East COVID-19 Response Group web page has been launched for those looking for more information and partners wanting to engage with its work.

North East businesses can also access the North East Growth Hub, where a COVID-19 (coronavirus) toolkit provides the most up to date support and advice, including partner information.

Read the Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East here.

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New role for an Analyst at the North East LEP

In conversation with Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

I’m delighted to share a new and exciting opportunity to join the North East LEP team as an Analyst.

This one-year fixed term role will help the LEP achieve its objective of creating more and better jobs here in the North East.

It’s perfect for someone analytical with the confidence to present and translate data into meaningful messages that will resonate with a wide number of people.

When in post, our new Analyst will regularly update the baseline analysis of the North East economy to inform the work of the LEP and any strategic documents we produce. They will also use toolkits to help us monitor the local economic landscape, including the impact of COVID-19 on our communities.

A key part of the job will be working with our excellent Skills team to develop a critical North East Local Skills Report for March 2021. Our new recruit will also update the baseline analysis of the North East skills and labour markets, to inform the work of the Skills Advisory Panel (SAP).

If you’d enjoy working with policy leads, analysts and other key partners across the North East LEP and Central Government to provide analysis and recommendations on the local skills system to feed into the local skills strategy, this could be the role for you.

All new team members are warmly welcomed at the LEP so if this sounds of interest, please find out more here.