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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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North East LEP and regional partners submit response to government’s consultation on UK Freeports

Paul Carbert, Economic Policy Co-ordinator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, outlines the North East’s innovative response, which would drive economic growth in the region, create jobs and regenerate coastal communities.

As the UK prepares to complete its exit from the EU and establishes new trading relationships around the world, the UK government launched a consultation earlier this year on Freeports policy.

Freeports and free zones are in place in many parts of the world. They are areas within a country’s land border where different customs rules apply, and are being considered by government as part of its future strategy to strengthen trade relationships and secure inward investment. Freeports provide benefits for exporters and importers because goods can be imported into, manufactured, and exported from inside the zone without incurring tariffs and customs duties unless they enter the domestic market. They offer the potential to promote regeneration and job creation in those areas within the zone and drive growth in the wider economy.

The government’s consultation has sought views on how they should structure their approach to Freeports. It envisages that because of their likely location close to ports or in coastal areas, the strategy offers the opportunity to stimulate the economies of often deprived areas. They are also seeking proposals which position Freeports as hubs for innovation to test new ideas and technologies. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, and an active list of partners comprising of the North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities, Business Durham, the CBI, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Port of Blyth, Port of Sunderland, Port of Tyne, Newcastle International Airport, University of Sunderland, Durham University, Newcastle University, and Northumbria University, submitted a response to the Government’s consultation earlier this month that outlines the region’s preferred approach to Freeports; one that focuses on new growth and jobs, the regeneration of key coastal areas and the development of other parts of the regional economy. It also reinforces the need for the UK’s existing labour market, security and environmental standards to be maintained.

After conducting research and gathering the views of local partners, the North East response has proposed that a multi-site, digitally enabled Free Trade Zone – linking key manufacturing sites in the North East with ports – would provide the greatest benefit for the North East. It would add value to our current economy, provide an opportunity to deploy and test a range of new digital approaches, and guard against the risk of local displacement of economic activity. It would complement a free trade deal with the European Union.

The innovative approach put forward for the North East takes into account the region’s industrial and logistics structure and would build on its wide-ranging assets. It would allow the region’s digital sector to develop innovation that would improve the operation and efficiency of Freeports, and provide an opportunity to stimulate job growth in key sectors such as advanced manufacturing, energy, digital, and transport, particularly at a time when the region’s economy will be continuing to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst the region agrees Freeports are not a substitute for a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU – the preference in the North East is for both a deal and a Free Trade Zone – should the UK leave the transition period without a new trade deal, Freeports would mitigate some of the impact and provide opportunities to build on existing supply chains and clusters, and attract inward investment.

Following the submission of the region’s response to the Government’s consultation, the North East LEP and its partners will now work on preparing a collaborative bid to a government sponsored competition which is expected in the Autumn, to establish a North East Free Trade Zone.

To receive further updates about the North East LEP’s bid for a North East Free Trade Zone, please sign up to receive Insights North East, the newsletter from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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In conversation with Andrew Moffat, Board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), about investment in the East Coast Mainline

A key driver for a strong and resilient economy is good connectivity. Without it, people, goods and data can’t be moved easily and efficiently, which impacts productivity and performance.

Connectivity is even more important to us here in the North East because of our geography. We, more than many other regions in the UK, rely heavily on road, rail, air and sea links to help us do business in the region, across the country and all over the world.

Our assets include the largest light railway system outside of London, an international airport, three major ports and a road network that links us to the rest of the country.

We also have an extensive rail network that provides us with regular and direct services to Scotland, London, Manchester and other key economic hubs in the UK.

Of course to remain competitive and to access markets, it’s essential we continually invest in our infrastructure to ensure it is future proof and fit for purpose. It’s for that reason I support the call for government to pledge significant investment in the East Coast Mainline.

The current East Coast Mainline is unable to cope with growing demand on the route. As well as carrying 15 million passengers from the region each year, the East Coast Mainline is a major freight route that supports the region’s expanding automotive industry and transports goods including coal and biomass.

The line reduces from four to two tracks north of Northallerton, which reduces capacity on the network and impacts its efficiency. Services on the line have also been subject to delays or cancellation because of ongoing under-investment.

For us to achieve the aims set out in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan and ensure the North East remains a key player in the Northern Powerhouse, we must build capacity on the network and make sure it’s ready to support HS2 services by 2033.

As the former Chief Executive of Port of Tyne, I know – first hand – how important our region’s rail system, and particularly the East Coast Mainline, is to our economy. Without it, Port of Tyne would have missed out on major contracts that helped us create jobs and boost the local economy.

Transport for the North is campaigning for better connectivity to unlock the economic potential of the North. Its proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail network would transform how people travel across the North and boost productivity by closing the gap with the South. The East Coast Mainline will have a major role to play so it is vital government make the funding available to carry out works the line so desperately needs.

A recent report into the benefits of investment in the East Coast Mainline found the impact of HS2 and investment in the line between York and Newcastle would generate around £493m of GVA to the UK economy each year and £100.42m GVA per annum for the North East.

As a region we must be better connected so we can access new markets and position ourselves as a major economic hub in the UK. We already have to work harder than other areas because of our physical location but by improving our transport infrastructure and ensuring it’s future proof, we can compete globally, grow our economy, create more and better jobs and bring more investment into the region.

By Andrew Moffat
Board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

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North East bid to be national testbed for 5G trial

Plans to position the North East as a key focus for the UK’s 5G revolution have been unveiled and will form the basis of a proposal to locate a national testbed here in the region.

The North East Combined Authority (NECA), the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Nexus, the Digital Catapult Centre and the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre have joined forces through a memorandum of understanding to develop a plan to provide mobile phone operators and technology companies with the environment they need to test out how the next generation of mobile and wireless technology can improve the delivery of a wide range of services to people and businesses.

The ‘testbed’ programme would establish the region as a location of choice for a range of potential 5G applications in areas including energy, transport and health care. This will be achieved by creating a ‘fibreoptic backbone’ around the Tyne and Wear Metro system and linking different parts of the region to provide testbed opportunities.

The Government is looking to establish the UK as a global leader in 5G enabled communications and is seeking to establish a group of testbeds to trial the technology and a range of possible applications in environments where it will be used every day. The ambition is supported by Digital Catapult, which has identified 5G development as critical in unlocking digital growth in the UK economy.

Richard Baker, North East LEP Head of Strategy and Policy, said: “Our diverse and well-connected economy means that North East England is ideally positioned to play a key role in helping the UK meet its aim of being a global leader in 5G development. Our aim is to ensure that the region can seize the economic opportunities presented by 5G by being involved in the early stage testing needed to develop national 5G capability.

“By 2030, it is estimated that the 5G enabled communications industry will be worth £198bn a year to national GDP and we want the North East to be at the forefront of this revolution, creating opportunities for local businesses and attracting new investment technology, as well as to ensure that our residents can benefit from new and improved services.”

Dritan Kaleshi, Digital Catapult’s 5G Fellow, and member of the Steering Group for the project added: “The role of the Digital Catapult is to ensure that new digital technologies deliver economic growth and new opportunities for businesses and services to the public. 5G has the potential to revolutionise each of these areas. We welcome to opportunity to work with the North East on this project which could add significant value to the UK’s work to be in the forefront of this global revolution.”

Keith Robson, Chief Operating Officer of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre said: “The next generation of digital communications technology aims to significantly enhance the performance of digital connectivity in terms of reliability, speed and accessibility.

“This will change the way that devices can connect to each other by embedding boundless connectivity for mobile devices and online customers in the UK. 5G has the potential to transform industry and services through multiple new applications, huge data storage and critical communications capacity. We believe that the North East has a unique offer to make to this national initiative and are pleased to be working with North East partners to realise this with the support of our own regional LEP, Enterprise M3..”

Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus, the public body which owns and runs the Tyne and Wear Metro, said: “We are delighted to be at the heart of this project, which is built on the unique infrastructure the Metro system’s region-wide fibre connectivity provides. It will enable us to test how 5G can improve transport services, but will also be able to provide the platform for testing other applications across the economy.”

The North East partners have secured initial funding from the North East LEP to develop a business case which will lead to a bid for investment in the testbed to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. If successful, the 5G mobile technology trials could see a range of opportunities for local business to engage with 5G development and see new services developed in the region.

The University of Surrey’s Government-recognised National Centre of 5G Industry Excellence is funded by major mobile phone operators and manufacturers who are looking for an environment to test the new technology which will reflect everyday conditions of use. It is backed by the Enterprise M3 LEP who have made it one of their key centres for their drive to capitalise on the growing global opportunities for Digital Enabling Technologies.

Mobile phone and internet providers say it is critically important to establish how the technology performs at a pre-commercial stage.

Councillor Paul Watson, Chair of NECA, said: “The North East partners see trials as an opportunity to be in the first wave of 5G‐enablement, improve the region’s digital infrastructure and position the North East as the first choice for inward investment in digital industries. We’re confident of producing a strong bid that will not only highlight the region’s suitability as a testbed but also demonstrate that we are primed and ready to go on this project.”