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In conversation with Ammar Mirza CBE, Business Growth Board chair, about the North East LEP’s annual review and the work of the Business Growth team

It’s been an emotional and dramatic time for North East businesses, and there’s more change to come. As crucial pandemic funding and support from the government winds down, the North East LEP’s Business Growth team is prepared to help businesses and employees to adjust, rebound, and seize their opportunities to be entrepreneurial and brave.

We talked to the LEP’s Business Growth Board chair, Ammar Mirza CBE, about the future.

If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s the value of being able to adapt.

The early months of the pandemic were an emotional time. Talking to people faced with this storm, who were scared that they’d lost it all.

The team helped them plan a route ahead. We worked with people who had fallen through the cracks in support, and our partners all mucked in to support one another.

The time and effort they put in was nothing short of humbling. That’s why we do what we do, and why board members volunteer their time. Because we can see the difference we can all make together.

In 2020/21, we worked intensively with around 1,500 businesses of different sizes. Thanks to collaboration with the Business Growth Board and the Business Support Provider Network, we were able to support people starting a business, operating under COVID-19 restrictions, and even acting on new opportunities. We secured £4.4m to help North East businesses weather COVID-19. 

We’re starting to see more optimism in the business community. But there’s still some caution and hesitancy. And every shift affects people differently.

Some sectors have never grown as quickly as they have over the last two quarters. But others simply haven’t been able to. That includes leisure and hospitality, and businesses that rely on large-scale events.

Professional services aren’t back in the office at the same scale, and that’s changed the dynamic in our city and town centres. With no commute, we’ve seen significant increases in productivity. But – with the gap between home and office blurring – we need to be mindful of people’s wellbeing.

Money remains the biggest enabler, and the biggest barrier. Many people still remain on furlough. And as the financial support provided during the lockdowns begins to wind up, we’ll see a lot more businesses struggle.

We’ll continue to work with good companies, so that they have a base to build from. But we’re seeing a seismic shift in what’s done, who does what, and how it’s done. Some businesses in the North East and beyond may not survive, in their current form.

But that’s not where our support ends. We’re working to ensure there are initiatives and opportunities in place to help people re-skill and up-skill. But – in parallel with that – we want to help individuals boost their aspiration, and their ambition.

Our aim is to galvanise the entrepreneurial spirit of the North East. We want to help more people start businesses, and grow them. For example, we’re now part of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme, which saw the launch for a project aimed at increasing and retaining entrepreneurial talent in the region. That will continue in 2021/22.

This is a time of change, but that also means there are so many opportunities out there. We can use this shift to bring in a new breed of entrepreneur, and we’ll do everything possible to help them achieve their dreams.

Ammar Mirza CBE is an award-winning entrepreneur and business founder, and Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board.

The North East LEP Annual Review 2020/21 is available to read here.

Home / Ammar Mirza CBE

THE BIG PIE Friday Challenge – 18 March

The largest ever Enterprise Education Challenge is planned to take place across the North East.

Launching on Friday 18th March the BIG PIE Friday Challenge, which is part of the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Project, will potentially see 250 Primary Schools in North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland competing against one another.

Targeting 10 and 11 year olds this unique, exciting and ambitious Challenge will engage inspire and educate future generations in enterprise and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) based activities.

The BIG PIE Friday Challenge will be delivered free to schools within three stages. The first being two timed activities on the morning of the 18th March to all of the schools that have signed up. Five schools from each area that are the quickest at completing the tasks will go through to the second stage where they will each undertake a full day of enterprise. The students will plan, create and sell something with support from local businesses, complete a formal qualification and then be judged purely on the profit they make.

The Challenge will ultimately culminate in an awards ceremony within Newcastle in June 2016.

The project helps young people realise their ambitions and aspirations, creating better life choices and improving life chances. By providing real enterprise experiences, including the opportunity to run a shop, the PIE Project brings education to life. With an ambitious aim to counteract the current negative misconception around education attainment within the North East and the lack of employer engagement, the project will platform the North East as a truly committed region investing in its future generations.

MD of Accenture Bob Paton CBE who is spearheading the campaign highlighted “The prosperity of our economy, the future skills of the workforce and the career prospects of young people are dependent on adequate and appropriate development opportunities and experiences being available to ensure individuals have the right skills and attributes to successfully enter the world of work.”

“There is significant evidence that suggests employers are suffering from a skills shortage and whilst there are a range of interventions providing Careers Information Advice and Guidance these tend to be focused on pupils aged 14 plus.”

“I want to help bring the whole community together for a common purpose creating a movement all around enterprise education. As an adroit campaigner of skills development and passionate about positively platforming the North East, I am spearheading the Campaign. I now need everyone to get behind this exciting initiative.“

Building on the significant success of the already established PIE Project (established in 2013 by Ammar Mirza CBE, Founder and Chairman of Asian Business Connexions) Ammar explains, “The project was launched in collaboration with Tyneview School where I am Chair of Governors, Walkergate School and supported by business leader Bill Midgley OBE.

“Four schools came together and established a corner shop that enabled pupils to experience enterprise activities first-hand. We engaged with businesses including Your Homes Newcastle, Leazes Homes, Northumbria Water and lots of local organisations who came into the schools and provided expert advice and guidance to the students.

“Since then the project has grown exponentially and there are two PIE Shops in Newcastle where students can experience planning, creating and selling things all supported by businesses. In an effort to formalise learning the students can now undertake an NCFE Qualification in Investigating Enterprise which is industry recognised and provides real currency for future employment.”

Ammar goes on to say, “The pupils go through real live enterprise activities including developing a CV, applying to become the shop manager for the day, together with being interviewed for the job. Developing a range of social and professional skills alongside developing their strengths and identifying their weaknesses, the pupils are ideally equipped to realise their aspirations.”

The unique aspect of the PIE Project is that it endeavours to promote all of the activities available to young people with the aim of ensuring every opportunity is offered to every child. Rather than a one size fits all approach the PIE Project works with the school and other similar initiatives to make sure the needs of the pupil and business opportunities are adequately and appropriately matched.

Working with all local businesses including Bob the Builder, Ed the Engineer, Sally the Solicitor the PIE Project ensures clear line of sight to local careers for pupils that can be influenced by local people.
Last year the activities were supported by Sir John Hall who the pupils studied as part of their qualification. Sir John presented the certificates to the students at a special assembly at Tyneview School and recognised their achievements, being the youngest pupils to undertake a formal vocational industry recognised qualification. HRH Princess Eugenie visited the schools and the PIE Shop to show Royal support and a PIE Conference was hosted by Newcastle University Business School.

This year the PIE Project wants to go bigger and reach the whole of the region. The BIG PIE Friday Challenge is supported by a range of partners and stakeholders, the competition will involve local businesses, parents of the pupils and the wider community. Working with Newcastle University, Newcastle College and NCFE to develop and deliver the Enterprise Challenges a whole host of organisations and media partners have already signed up committing both financial and physical resources. All of the local MPs have signed up to supporting the project and even the Armed Forces are involved.

The activities will clearly align to the North East LEPs Gatsby Career Information, Advice and Guidance Benchmarks and Enterprise Advisors initiative. This approach will make sure that the planned outcomes and outputs are successfully achieved and link to national standards.

Moving forward The BIG PIE Friday Challenge hopes that everyone will consider becoming part of and supporting the PIE Project to help influence and deliver enterprise education, together with career advice and guidance, in a collaborative and consistent way.

Bob encourages everyone to get involved, “I look forward to you supporting a truly inclusive, ambitious, fun and exciting Challenge that will significantly benefit our future generations showcasing the North East for being an amazing place.”

For further details/to register your interest email [email protected] or call Tony Stafford (Project Manager) on 0191 2424894.

Image credit: chroniclelive.co.uk