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In conversation with Gillian Hall, North East LEP Innovation Board Chair, about the LEP’s annual review and the importance of creating an innovation culture in the region

The upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of innovation across the North East. But how do you build on that, and create a culture that’s always proactively searching for competitive advantage and new opportunities?

We talked to the North East LEP’s Gillian Hall, Innovation Board Chair, about creating the confidence and ambition needed to build an innovative region.

When people talk about “innovation”, often they think about scientists locked away in labs.

However, innovation comes in many forms. There’s innovation where you find a competitive advantage, or where you do something differently – not just when you invent something or carry out scientific research.

Over the last year or so, I don’t think there’s any business that’s just “carried on as normal”. Everyone’s had to re-think something or shift how they work. And when you tell people that’s innovation, suddenly they realise: “Oh, I can do that”.

We’ve talked to a lot of businesses that have had to learn new ways of doing things. Maybe a company has had to consider sourcing new parts suppliers. Maybe another has moved all its sales to online platforms, and had to master different ways of advertising.

Many businesses have changed, or pivoted. But across the region, people have rolled up their sleeves and done what was needed.

The LEP team has been hugely resilient during this time, thinking of new ways to get their job done. And the collaboration across the region has been excellent, with businesses, local authorities and the voluntary sector working together.

That’s the key to creating a more innovative region. We want to create a problem-solving culture, where solutions just might come from outside your organisation. 

We launched Challenge North East, a COVID-19 open innovation pilot in November last year, encouraging ideas on how to manage safe, in-person events and home-based services. In all, 16 projects received a total of £200,000 in funding to help develop solutions. That also gave us a best practice model to use for future open innovation, challenge-led projects.

A big part of our work over the next five years will be to help build that culture of innovation. On top of that, we will make the best use of the money we have to pump prime innovation projects and partnerships; and will continue our conversations with government around our innovation strategy and what we need from government to help deliver it.

We’ll also be seeking to increase private sector investment into our innovative companies. We’ve been working on an interconnector project with the City of London Corporation which will showcase the work we’re doing in the region to City investors. We’ve also commissioned an Economic Markets Foresight Analysis to identify potential global opportunities for our businesses to take advantage of.

We’re very fortunate to have four great universities, which bring significant muscle and reputational impact to the region. The universities’ Northern Accelerator collaboration has already created 28 spin-out businesses since its inception in 2016. Keeping graduates in the region is also a major focus. There’s also a big role for our further education colleges, which will make sure that our people are trained for the jobs of the future.

After all, the LEP is here to create more and better jobs. You have to have businesses that have market leading products and services that people want to buy; those business will need skilled workers. We want to encourage business and the public and voluntary sectors to think differently, to collaborate in finding solutions to problems, and then create employment opportunities from those solutions.

In the end, it’s about helping to build confidence and ambition. It’s about staying true to the overall objectives of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan, and encouraging government, our local authorities, business and the education sectors to work together for the benefit of the region.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, so we should always be pushing to do more. That means getting people around the table, and coming up with new ways to do amazing things.

Gillian Hall is Chair of the Innovation Board at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

You can find out more about the North East LEP’s Innovation Programme at www.northeastlep.co.uk.

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In conversation with Andrew Moffat CBE, Chair of the North East LEP’s Investment Board, about the LEP’s annual review and the role investment has played in supporting the region’s economic recovery from COVID-19

In a period of uncertainty, it’s easy to get sidetracked. But over the last couple of years, the North East LEP has been able to maintain its longer-term strategic plan, while providing businesses and organisations with the support they need to keep moving.

In August 2020, the Government announced a fund investing £1.3bn into homes, infrastructure and jobs.

The Getting Building Fund looked to deliver up to 45,000 homes, create 85,000 jobs and boost skills and infrastructure nationwide. The North East LEP received £47m from government, which it topped up with a further £8m.

Over the next eight months, it moved quickly to arrange investment into 16 projects, which are anticipated to be well on the way to completion by spring 2022. These include the NUCASTLE facility for accessible learning and recreation, and the new South Tyneside Council Glassworks office development.

The North East LEP has a track record of supporting the right schemes in a timely manner. Andrew Moffat CBE chair of its Investment Board says that “when the government allocates funds to us – we spend them, in the time they require, and spend them effectively. They have confidence that we’ll deliver, and therefore next time, they might give us more.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve looked at where the gaps are in government funding, and tried to help. This includes a supply chain initiative for PPE, and an Innovation Challenge supporting businesses who are solving COVID-related problems. We also launched a crowdfunder scheme, which invested £471,000 into local small and micro businesses with the help of our generous community whose contributions we matched.

“As businesses bounce back, we’ll be looking to give them the support they need. We’ve called on government to back our ambitious £2.8bn Recovery and Renewal Deal, helping us build a greener, more innovative and resilient economy. We’re also providing direct support to businesses, through our investment programmes, and our Growth Hub support.

“COVID-19 has required us to collaborate and listen more than ever. We’ve acted quickly and decisively, and I’m really proud of the work our whole team has done. But we’re still carrying on with the work we’ve been doing for nearly a decade. We’re still committed to our Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to create 100,000 more and better jobs for the region.

“So far, the LEP has secured over a billion pounds in funding which in turn has secured more than another £1.6 billion of private sector investment in the region. We’re continuing to build on our strengths in Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Health and Life Sciences and Digital. Our Local Growth Fund has distributed £270m over six years to strategic capital projects, while our Enterprise Zone funding has invested £65m, with a further £100m forecast by 2025.

“We’re also always looking at what’s happening globally, identifying which and how sectors are growing and evolving. Because, when opportunities arise, we want to support the region in harnessing them. We seek to make the necessary investments to ensure we’re prepared, whether that’s getting a brownfield site ready for development, or working with an investor or company to seize market opportunities.

“There are many examples where this strategy is already bearing fruit. The International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) is a great example. The NewcastleGateshead Quays project is nearly off the blocks, and we’re working closely to support the redevelopment at Port of Blyth – as well as assisting other ports and operators in the region.

“We’re not alone. We’re working with many partners from all over the region to make the right choices to help the North East economy grow and thrive. Together, we have gained a fantastic reputation that includes a track record of delivery, whilst at the same time our strategic approach has allowed us to be on the front foot, and always ready for the next opportunity to gain access to government funding and help deliver real economic benefit to the region.”

Andrew Moffat CBE is the Chair of the North East LEP’s Investment Board.

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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.

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Review of region’s economic progress and business support published

In a year when COVID-19 hit the global economy, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has released an overview of its support for businesses and the region’s progress towards creating 100,000 more and better jobs. 

The North East LEP Annual Review for 2020/21 includes details of the North East COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal Deal; the North East LEP’s partnership with Crowdfunder UK to support small businesses; and the Challenge North East programme, which helped businesses to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues the region is facing as a result of the pandemic.

Helen Golightly OBE, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “Innate to our wonderful region is a sense that – whatever happens – we can and will go again and it is this drive and determination that has overwhelmingly dominated our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Good communication – listening and learning – has helped us and our partners work collaboratively for the good of the region. While there is still much to do, and our focus and resolve will continue, it is right to take stock of this, mark the moment and feel proud.”

During 2020/21, the North East LEP came together with North East Combined Authority, North of Tyne Combined Authority, CBI, Newcastle University on behalf of the region’s universities, the voluntary sector and trade unions to form the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group. In September 2020, the group published the Recovery and Renewal Deal for the North East which asks government for £2.8 billion investment to unlock half of the 100,000 more jobs required to support the North East to build back stronger after the pandemic.

The North East LEP Annual Review also details the success of the partnership with Crowdfunder UK which saw the public join forces with the North East LEP to safeguard 128 businesses and more than 400 jobs.

And the business community used its strengths in innovation to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, with more than 60 SMEs putting forward ideas as part of Challenge North East. The programme is providing funding and support for businesses to develop solutions to problems including making in-person events safe again, and helping organisations which carry out work in people’s homes. £125,000 has now been awarded for seven of the most promising solutions to be brought to market.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “Despite the challenges we have all faced, it’s clear that the region has pulled together to support each other and move towards recovery.

The team at the North East LEP, along with our many partners, has continued its work to help businesses and communities thrive in our region. From our work with schools and colleges, where we aim to make sure that every child and young person receives the best possible careers guidance, through to our programmes of support for the region’s industries of the future, I am heartened to see that we’re still making strong progress towards achieving our aim of bringing 100,000 more and better jobs to our region by 2024.”

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

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership publishes its Annual Review 2019-2020

Tribute paid to its ‘exceptional’ team and the resilience of the North East’s business community.

The Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Helen Golightly, has paid tribute to the LEP’s ‘exceptional’ team and spoken about how the region’s inbuilt resilience and strong community will see it through the coronavirus crisis, in its Annual Review, published today.

Referencing the annual government review of all Local Enterprise Partnerships, which resulted in the North East LEP being marked exceptional for its delivery, Golightly said: “This demonstrates our strong leadership and solid implementation to ensure that our strategic projects are delivered to make the maximum impact to boost economic development and create more and better jobs.”

The Annual Review 2019-2020 sets out the progress that has been made against the six targets in the Strategic Economic Plan, in relation to the number, quality and type of employment opportunities available, the proportion of the workforce that is in employment and economically active, and productivity.

The two headline targets are to increase the number of jobs between 2014-2024 by 100,000 and for 70% of these jobs to be ‘better jobs’.

While COVID-19 has since made these targets more difficult to achieve, by December 2019 total employment had increased by 57,000. Employment in ‘better jobs’ had increased by 70,400.

Other key achievements in the last twelve months have included the North East Growth Hub becoming a critical resource for North East businesses, offering support on the EU Exit and how to best mitigate the impact of coronavirus. The launch of a second Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot has also taken place in the North East LEP region, this time focusing on primary schools.

The government announced in March 2020 that the North East will be at the centre of investment in innovation, while a highlight within the North East LEP’s transport programme has been the region collectively securing £198m from the Transforming Cities Fund to invest in key sustainable transport projects.

Speaking about the challenges currently being faced by businesses, North East LEP Chief Executive Helen Golightly said: “These may be truly uncertain and turbulent times but rest assured, we continue to support businesses and communities.

“This region is not frightened of a challenge and I am confident that our inbuilt resilience and strong community identity will carry us through to the recovery when we will do everything we possibly can to ensure our regional economy is back to pre-COVID-19 levels – and stronger again.”

Click here to read the North East LEP’s Annual Review 2019-2020.

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North East LEP Annual Review 2018-19

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has published its annual report, detailing its activities during 2018-2019. Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, reflects on what’s been achieved for the North East during the past year.

The last year has been a positive one for the North East, despite the current uncertainty around Brexit and how this will impact businesses here in the region. As you’ll see in our annual report, we have continued to make good progress in our drive to create more and better jobs for the region, with more than 71,600 new jobs already added to the regional economy since 2014 – a significant stride towards our ultimate aim of creating 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

Our annual report gives you an overview of our five programmes of activity from within our Strategic Economic Plan. It demonstrates the positive progress made in each area and how, by working closely with our partners across the region, we’re working towards fulfilling our long term vision for the North East economy. It also details achievements and milestones in relation to the three funds that we manage – Local Growth Fund, Enterprise Zones and the North East Investment Fund.

One of our key events this year was the launch of the updated Strategic Economic Plan for the North East. More than 400 people joined us on the day to hear how the Plan has been refreshed and updated to respond to our ever-changing economic climate. The Plan sets the strategic direction for our work and I was very happy to see so many of our partners there on the day to learn more about the Plan and how we can all act as advocates for the region.

Many North East businesses, business support organisations and entrepreneurs are also actively involved in our programmes, from Scaleup North East, which provides bespoke support to ambitious businesses which are ready to achieve the next level of growth, to the Enterprise Adviser network, which sees business leaders working together with school leadership teams to strengthen careers guidance for young people.

Representatives from the business, education and voluntary sectors also sit on our North East Brexit Group, alongside the local authorities and trade unions. The importance of forming a group like this was clear, and it’s allowed us to have a collective regional voice and influence the national debate from a North East perspective.

Looking ahead, an important piece of work for us now is to develop the North East Local Industrial Strategy (LIS). As ever, this can’t be done in isolation and we will be developing the North East LIS in close partnership with stakeholders in the region and with government. The LIS dovetails with the North East Strategic Economic Plan and focuses on opportunities to strengthen North East productivity and standards of living.

Putting together our annual report always provides a chance to reflect on what’s been achieved and any challenges we’ve faced. It’s a chance to demonstrate the breadth of our activities, which cover areas including innovation, skills and business growth, and which pinpoint sectors where we know the North East has the opportunity to demonstrate strong growth: energy, advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and digital.

There’s space for every part of our business community to be involved in our work and help us to work together to achieve our aim of creating an inclusive, sustainable and strong North East economy. You can read our annual report here and I hope you will join us in working towards an even stronger North East.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP

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Annual review 2015-16

The past year has seen some changes here at the North East LEP. We’ve welcomed Andrew Hodgson as the new Chair and strengthened our Board with a number of new appointments. We enter 2016-17 with a dynamic and experienced team working, in partnership with the business community, towards our aim of creating 100,000 more and better jobs here in the North East by 2024.

2015-16 brought some real highlights for the region’s economy: in November we announced the creation of a second Enterprise Zone to boost manufacturing, export and innovation. We also helped to ensure that £120m of business support funding in the form of the JEREMIE fund remained under local control, to be used solely to support North East companies.

The number of people aged between 16 and 64 in employment in the North East is at an all-time high (70.6% in November 2015 – January 2016) and 1.2 million people in the region are now in work. This is the highest recorded figure.

These are just some of the successes which we’ve seen here in the area and we’re building on these achievements and moving forward with our implementation of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan, focusing on the key areas of business growth, innovation and skills.

You can read more about our work over the past year, and our ambitions for the next, in our annual review.

Helen Golightly, Chief Operating Officer