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Andrew Hodgson gives his view on devolution

In his latest column for the Journal newspaper, North East LEP Chair Andrew Hodgson gave an update on recent talks around a devolution deal:

As Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, I’ve made it clear in the past and reiterate my belief that it makes economic sense for a devolution deal to encompass the whole of North East LEP area. For me it’s not about political ideology or money, it’s that making local decisions on local strategic issues is common sense.

The subject is very much back on the political agenda with talks taking place between the three local authorities North of the River Tyne – Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside – and Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, to strike a deal for their area.

It’s clear that despite a huge effort from the LEP and the business community, the seven North East local authorities are not in a position to progress devolution together at this time.

I also appreciate the importance of progressing devolution to a timetable where the North East is not left behind the rest of the country, which in the eyes of Government is to have a mayor by 2018 – a very challenging timetable.

Therefore, we will work with the three councils and any other councils who wish to move towards a devolution deal, to ensure a devolution deal in the North East has business-focused outcomes.

I have confirmed the LEP’s position with both the Government and the north of Tyne councils and insisted that the door must be left open for all, or any, of the local authorities south of the Tyne who may decide in future that they would like to pursue this current devolution opportunity.

I fully respect the decision made by local authority elected representatives and officials south of the Tyne that the terms offered by Government at present are not ones they feel they can recommend to the people they represent. We will continue to ensure businesses in the south of the region are not disadvantaged by the on-going discussions.

Any deal for the north of the region should have the delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) at its heart to boost economic growth.

We’ve been refreshing our SEP and are looking forward to profiling the immense progress that has been made in terms of its delivery and contribution to increasing our economy.

Taking local control over finance and powers for areas such as housing, skills and transport can only help our growth and successfully deliver the bold agenda set out in the SEP.

For example, securing £380m in North East Growth Deal funding, piloting the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks programme, funded by the Gatsby Foundation, with 16 schools and colleges, and creating a North East Innovation Board of industry leaders to steer major investment projects are all important milestones – but need to be built upon by any devolution deal.

We’ve come far and achieved much in a short space of time, but there’s still a long way to go for the North East economy to contribute its full worth to the Northern Powerhouse and UK.

 

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North East LEP Autumn Statement reaction

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership today welcomed Government focus on boosting productivity through infrastructure, innovation and business growth measures in the Autumn Statement.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair said:

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s focus on raising national productivity through substantial infrastructure and innovation investment mirrors the approach of the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan.

We welcome the Chancellor’s recognition that we are making a stronger contribution to the national economy through the creation of more and better jobs.

The Government has committed to investing £23bn into a National Productivity Investment Fund to boost innovation and infrastructure over the next five years which provides opportunities for our region to exploit.

We welcome the Chancellor’s focus on 5G broadband development through a £1bn fund and trials programme – the region has written to the Chancellor with a proposal to create a trial site for 5G in the North East.

The £220m funding for pinch points on strategic roads gives the North East an opportunity to further develop schemes in relation to the strategic highway network in the region.

Investment into the ultra-low emission vehicles sector represents a major opportunity for the North East with its strong automotive sector and highly developed low carbon vehicle programme.

We are delighted that our joint proposal for a Science and Innovation Audit with other Northern LEPs will be going ahead in round two.

A group of tax changes will benefit companies in the region’s rural and urban communities.

We look forward to learning in the coming days the allocation of funding to the individual Northern LEPs through the Local Growth Fund to finance strategic capital projects.

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The road to devolution

All journeys have to begin at a starting point and the North East could be about to take the first step on the road to devolution.

It’s a well worn phrase over the past few months, but it’s no exaggeration to say that devolution offers us a once in a generation chance to help shape an improved economic future for the North East of England.

There’s a real economic momentum being built up around the Strategic Economic Plan, supporting business growth and job creation.

Devolution presents us with a chance to really capitalise on this momentum.

The LEP has consistently expressed its support for devolution for the North East and I reiterate that support as chair.

I recognise however that not everybody is happy with what is being offered by Government.

I fully respect that. At the end of the day, they are elected members of a local authority and they have made what they believe is the best judgement for local people.

On a personal level, I also think there is much more we can do, and respect people looking at the devolution deal and thinking ‘is that good enough?’

But the deal was never going to be perfect from day one. It is more about how we can get to where we want to be.

We have a stark choice now to decide either not to participate in devolution or go with it and work alongside Government to get the best possible deal we can for the North East.

The areas that were involved in the devolution process early tell us that we have got to do this in phases.

Manchester has been on this devolution path a little longer and they are starting to reap the benefits.

We have got to establish how we can make devolution work for us and use that as the platform to achieve bigger and better things.

Continuing negotiations and discussions with Government, as the combined authority is doing, together with a very strong business voice to help further improve the delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan for the region, has to be the way forward.

The business members of the North East LEP board are fully supportive of how our fellow board members as combined authority leaders are trying to deliver on that.

Ultimately, devolution only really matters when it makes sense to people and not just to business organisations, politicians or indeed, the LEP.

And as with all journeys, you have to begin somewhere to travel to the point you want to get to. The devolution deal is just that – a deal and it can be improved.

We have to respect the fact there are differing opinions and compromises will have to be made.

But we have the opportunity to take our own path to a better and more prosperous economic future.

The devolution deal will allow us to better take the really big decisions that will help us deliver on more of the ambitions set out in the Strategic Economic Plan which is crucial to the sustainable growth of our economy.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair.

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North East LEP reaction to today’s North East Combined Authority devolution decisions

North East LEP reaction to today’s North East Combined Authority devolution decisions

Helen Golightly, North East LEP chief operating officer, said: “Today’s recommendations agreed by the North East Combined Authority underline the region’s general continued support for devolution.

“There are still matters where the local authorities feel they need more clarification from Government. The North East LEP remains fully supportive of the devolution process.

“The opportunity to take control of our own economic future is one we must seize to help the region improve its transport connections, offer even more support to business and boost the skills of our workforce.

“Devolving powers will give us more opportunity to help drive the economic growth our region needs to contribute our full worth to the UK economy.”

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In Conversation with North East LEP Chairman, Paul Woolston

Firstly, this is the ideal platform from which to wish everyone in the North East business community a prosperous new year.

The festive break gives us all time to recharge our batteries, reflect on the past year and look ahead to the opportunities to be seized and challenges to be met in 2016.

Christmas and New Year present us with the rare opportunity to take our foot off the gas and properly assess the 12 months past.

To move forward with clarity and purpose, we need to take stock of achievements, progress made and outcomes.

It also gives the valuable thinking time to tackle the year ahead with fresh motivation and renewed vigour.

The North East economy showed a continued strengthening in 2015 with more people in work than ever before and a general, longer-term fall in those out of work.

Encouragingly, labour market statistics also revealed more people available and wanting to work in our region. The North East LEP’s goal is to help deliver 100,000 more and better jobs for local people over the next decade, and these key statistics clearly point to an economy growing in confidence.

The North East LEP has attracted £1.5bn in Government and EU funding into the region over the past five years. It is crucial that it continues to secure investment to underpin business growth, job creation and support capital investment in projects to transform the region.

In this vein, the LEP worked hard with Government to ensure that the £120m JEREMIE 2 business support fund will remain North East managed and exclusively invested into scores of North East firms.

The success of the first round of JEREMIE funding supporting 800 small companies in exciting, booming sectors with £140m in equity loans, made it imperative that its successor followed this template.

Keeping JEREMIE 2 in the North East was a major win for our region last year, one of the real highlights for the LEP team.

As was securing ten new Enterprise Zones from Government spread from Northumberland to County Durham.

Their benefits for new and growing companies will attract an estimated 14,000 new jobs in crucial sectors such as subsea and low carbon technologies.

It doesn’t need a crystal ball to look ahead into 2016 and see the impact the devolution agenda will have on our region.

The LEP and North East Combined Authority have signed up to the devolution of more autonomy for the region and to the principle of an elected mayor in 2017.

Devolution will undoubtedly mean a changed role for the LEP in future. While it isn’t exactly clear what that will be just yet, the LEP remains fully supportive of the devolution process because of the powers it will give the region to shape its own future.

The next 12 months will be a time of continued delivery for the LEP team. The new North East Growth Hub – bringing comprehensive business support information onto one online platform – is due to go live imminently.

Supporting innovation through £125m of funding and encouraging greater collaboration and networks across the North East will remain central to its activity.

Backing those leading new economic growth through product development and enhancement to market will give our regional economy the competitive edge it needs to help close the gap with the rest of the UK.

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North East LEP welcomes devolution deal signing

The North East LEP has welcomed the announcement of today’s devolution deal signing.

Paul Woolston, North East LEP Chair, said: “We warmly welcome the historic devolution deal which represents a huge opportunity for the North East to chart its own course for economic growth and success.

“The government has given our region an unprecedented opportunity which we intend to seize working with our partners across the North East.

“The devolution deal represents an important day in the region’s economic history and demonstrates the scale of the North East’s ambition for growth and prosperity.

“We are also delighted to see that the government recognises the need for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to have a key role and powers as part of the region’s devolution deal.

“A lot of hard work still needs to be done to ensure that business and the North East LEP play a central role in the delivery of the region’s strategic economic plan.

“Drawing on the world-class knowledge, acumen and experience of our business community is crucial to ensure the North East makes the very most of this devolution of powers and spending.

“The LEP will continue to provide a strong voice for the business community and it is important that it is positioned so that the new mayor has access to a business-led resource with appropriate powers.

“We will embrace the changing role of the LEP which will focus on providing leadership and driving forward on innovation, business support, access to finance and enterprise zones.

“We will continue to work with partners to improve skills needed to deliver growth.”