The move into the final quarter of the year always gives me pause for reflection and there is much to think about as we continue to adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and consider how to best serve the region’s business community.
One of the things we have been working with government on over the past six months is a national review of Local Enterprise Partnerships.
LEPs are not statutory bodies, so it is right that we are reviewed to check that our priorities and set up remain fit for purpose. Government reviews of our performance are not new – they happen every year and have always been incredibly favourable for us here at the North East LEP. Just last year, our team was rated ‘exceptional’ for delivery, and this is testament to the strength of our leadership, partner relationship and highly skilled team, as well as the impact of our strategic projects which have continued to boost economic development and job creation at a very critical time.
When the review commenced, I was pleased to be approached to lead and participate in the national groups set up to inform and guide it. My colleagues Michelle Rainbow (Skills Director) and Jen Robson (Head of Communications) and I are very involved in the process.
As one of 38 LEPs operating across England following our establishment in 2011, we have had a clear and unified purpose – to develop local economic strategies and priorities that deliver an overarching objective. For us this is the creation of 100,000 more and better jobs for the North East LEP area.
We’ve worked hard to do just that. Partner engagement with the North East LEP and the region’s Strategic Economic Plan has helped deliver 60,000 jobs since 2014 and the employment gap between the North East and England (excluding London) has reduced by 31%. The changes have been driven by a 36% increase in employment in professional occupations.
Together with our partners, we have secured well over £2 billion investment for the region, resulting in the delivery of over 140 capital and 40 revenue projects securing 20,000 more jobs for the region.
We are particularly proud of where we are delivering game changing projects and programmes at a regional level – in spaces where it makes sense to do things at scale, rather than at a more local level.
The North East Growth Hub has become critical in providing our North East businesses with support, particularly during the run up to EU Exit and the COVID-19 pandemic. We supported over 2,000 businesses last year as they navigated their way through the economic shocks they were faced with.
Building on our pioneering work on the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, I was thrilled to see the launch of a second pilot in the North East LEP region, this time focusing on primary schools. This aims to sow the seeds of ambition from an early age, in recognition of the fact children can start to make career limiting decisions as early as five years old.
We were extremely encouraged by the announcement in March 2020 that the North East will be at the centre of government investment in innovation. This is expected to be in Power Electronics and Electric Machines and centred around the establishment of four Driving the Electric Revolution Centres which will share £30m to research and develop green electric machines including aircraft, ships and cars.
Next week, we will launch our fourth Our Economy report. Our Economy is a deep dive into the regional economy and how it is changing over time. One of our key roles is to provide robust evidence that is valued by our partners, helping inform decision making and shaping a more accurate narrative about the North East.
Whilst our track of delivery is demonstrable, there is no doubt that COVID has hit the North East hard.
Employment in the North East LEP area decreased by about 10,000 (or 1.1%) in the 12 months from April 2020, with particularly large falls in the number of self-employed people (down 15%) and among older workers (down 6% for 50 to 64-year-olds). Over 40,000 North East employees were still furloughed at the end of July and, although still officially classified as employed, the future employment prospects of some are likely to be uncertain.
The nature of our work and particularly how funding is allocated means it is critical that we are completely transparent and scrutinised on an ongoing basis. I personally believe that all organisations need to challenge themselves and be challenged to improve. The pace of change has accelerated since the start of the pandemic and government is right to check that the LEP business model is still fit for purpose and how it should adapt to maximise and target impact.
With the support of a dedicated Board, we have built an agile organisation that has already evolved to meet the significant challenges of the past two years – from the EU exit to Coronavirus.
In our organisation we have four core values – do the right thing, better together, think bigger and to make a difference. Those values weren’t chosen lightly; they are important to us and embraced by all the team in all they do. We are here to serve and add strategic value – to our businesses, partners, local and combined authorities, in a way that supports and leads them in whatever way they need to create greater economic wealth in the North East. We can offer expertise, conviction and rigour in our areas of leadership and specialism.
To review the national economic development delivery model at such a critical time is important to ensure delivery is both accelerated and targeted, to support our businesses to recover from the impact of the pandemic and to seize the opportunities presented to them. The North East LEP stands ready to continue to utilise it’s leadership, talent and partnerships to continue to drive economic growth in the region.