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CHALLENGE NORTH EAST LEADS ON INNOVATIVE COVID-19 SOLUTIONS

A challenge that called on North East businesses to generate innovative solutions to the Covid-19 crisis has reached a milestone moment.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) asked the regional business community for answers to Coronavirus-related problems through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme.

The programme saw the LEP offer funding and development support to SMEs whose ideas could help the North East adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 in two specific areas – delivering safe and engaging in-person events; and safely adapting in-home services.

Launched last year, Challenge North East was co-designed in consultation with business partners across the region to identify the key challenges posed by Covid-19 that North East SMEs could potentially develop innovative solutions to.

Over 60 businesses entered their ideas to the programme. A cohort of 16 SMEs received up to £5,000 of full funding and support to develop their solutions through Challenge North East’s co-design programme, working with business partners to quickly develop a prototype and test their solutions.

The finalists will pitch their ideas to an independent panel at the end of March to win up to £40,000 in further funding. All 16 SMEs will be given support and guidance to further their ideas.

Challenge North East is delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Software City.

Sarah Cox, Programme Director of Challenge North East, said: “It’s been fantastic to see the strength of the ideas that have come through from such a diverse group of businesses. There are some really innovative solutions that have the potential for multiple applications. Particularly impressive is the way many of the solutions offer economic and also social benefits, helping some of our most vulnerable communities.

“We have also been heartened by level of engagement from large regional organisations and our challenge supporters who helped us understand the problems they are facing and  and their willingness to support SMEs as they develop and test solutions with real-world applications.”

Alison Freer, Innovation Manager at Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “Challenge North East is very much a collaborative effort with our delivery partners and challenge supporters, pooling respective strengths and experience to champion the creativity and hard work of SMEs.

“The level of innovation demonstrated by the businesses involved has been inspiring. We are delighted to play our part in helping participants to develop their solutions in response to Covid disruption and find new market opportunities in doing so.”

Alan Welby, Director of Innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Covid-19 has been incredibly disruptive and had forced us to entirely change the way we live our lives.

“Challenge North East champions innovative solutions to this by drawing on the vast amount of talent and expertise in our region. By tapping into the potential of our people and organisations, we will find the solutions we need to rise to the challenges of these trying times.”

Some of the SMEs involved pivoted to adapt existing products and services to address Covid-19-related challenges, while others built entirely novel solutions based on their areas of capability and expertise.

This design-led innovation saw a wide range of imaginative solutions generated, ranging from process innovation, to digital platforms and physical products, all designed to help society adapt to Covid-19.

Organisations supporting Challenge North East include The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Sodexo along with Northern Gas Networks, ESH Group, Karbon Homes, Beyond Housing.

Challenge North East has received funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund. The Local Growth Fund is supporting capital investments to promote innovation, economic and skills infrastructure and sustainable transport as part of the North East Growth Deal.

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Budget 2021 Reaction

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), gave her reaction to the Budget delivered today by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP.

“Today’s Budget made clear the profound impact that COVID-19 has had on the UK economy, with the strong economic progress we saw up to February 2020 being disrupted. Whilst many places and sectors in the North East have proven to be very resilient, we should still be concerned about the inequalities which are evident between regions.

“We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of ongoing support for workers and businesses who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension of the furlough scheme and the availability of grants of up to £18,000 for businesses operating in the hospitality and retail sectors and £400m for the arts and cultural sector will help communities in the North East to rebuild strongly and with resilience.

“As we see the continuing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, we are moving closer to more people being able to safely return to the workplace, and ongoing support for businesses at this time of transition will be a critical part of our economic recovery. We know that many businesses are likely to review how they operate in the future, given our experiences of home working and the rapid development of digital technologies, and we will be looking to government to enable us to support our communities and businesses to drive forward their digital transitions.

“It is with bitter disappointment that we learnt today that our bid for a North East England Freeport was unsuccessful and that Newcastle would not become home to the Treasury as we had hoped.

“Our collaborative Freeport bid was hugely innovative and universally supported – and critically would have enabled us to transform the lives of millions of people in a region hardest hit by COVID-19 and the EU exit.

“Our focus is now on understanding what levels of investment that government is prepared to make in the North East so we can achieve our joint ambitions of creating more and better jobs, levelling up, and further unlocking our industrial potential to allow us to play our part in contributing to UK plc.

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Plan unveiled to double North East health and life sciences jobs

A new strategy designed to double the number of North East jobs in the health, life sciences and pharmaceuticals industry has been launched.

The North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy has been developed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) working in partnership with the NHS, businesses, universities and leaders in the health and life sciences sector.

As well as aiming to double the number of jobs in the sector from 12,000 to 24,000 by 2030, the strategy aims to double the number of businesses active in the North East health and life sciences community from 150 to 300.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “At a time when the world is facing challenges brought by an ageing population, and grappling with the consequences of COVID-19, the North East has the potential to become a leader in developing treatments which can improve quality of life the world over, while stimulating economic growth in our region.”

Health and life sciences is identified as an area of opportunity for the region in the North East Strategic Economic Plan, which is the roadmap for creating 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

The Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy identifies opportunities in a number of specific areas including the development of advanced therapies and drug delivery systems, growth of the pharmaceutical manufacturing supply chain, diagnostics development and scale-up, and an evolving ecosystem of innovation centres that supports businesses to start, grow and scale in the North East.

It also lays out the region’s strengths including an advanced manufacturing cluster, contributing significantly to the global pharmaceutical industry, generating £868 million for the regional economy in 2017; an emerging biotech cluster driven by corporate and university spinouts; and a skilled future workforce, with 22,000 students studying health and life sciences at North East universities.

Professor Michael Whitaker FRSA FRSB FMBA FMedSci, Chair, Health and Life Sciences Group, said: “We have a fantastic innovation ecosystem supported by an incredible translational environment where healthcare technologies and medicines are being constantly developed. Forward thinking leadership here in the North East is helping to drive forward global health services and markets – something of which we should all be very proud.”

Professor Chris Day, Vice Chancellor, Newcastle University and Chair of the Office for Strategic Co- ordination of Health Research, commented: “The North East is home to international academic research expertise in health and life sciences which not only provides competitive advantage but creates significant regional benefits. Our growing reputation as a testbed and living lab is enabling us to accelerate innovation as well as attract investment and skills.”

Read the North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy here.

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“This release provides official data to the end of 2020 and enables us to see the full picture about the impact COVID-19 had on the region’s labour market in 2020.

“Looking at the figures for the last quarter of 2020, the number of unemployed people seeking work in the North East region, including the North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP areas, was 18 per cent higher than in the first quarter of the year. The North East employment rate is the lowest in England at 71.2 per cent and 29,000 people were made redundant in the region during 2020, the highest total since 2012.

“In the later months of 2020, the labour market was less volatile than earlier in the year, but the statistics do not yet include the full impact of the restrictions since Christmas.

“In the North East LEP area, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits has increased by over 30,000 since March 2020.

“It is important to look at the detail to understand where the biggest impact has been felt and to identify key future policy challenges. Overall, the impact has been highest in younger age groups and one in ten people are claiming unemployment-related benefits in some areas.

“Another striking feature is the different impact on men and women. Compared with the first quarter of the year, the number of unemployed women in the region has increased by 10,000 or 47 per cent, while male unemployment has grown by 2,000 (just over 4 per cent).

“Yesterday’s announcement from government gives a clear pathway out of lockdown and will offer hope for many people after a very difficult year. However, it remains an uncertain time for businesses as we move to cautiously lift the COVID-19 controls and continue to adapt to new processes following the Trade Deal with the European Union.

“Support for those businesses remaining under restrictions due to the pandemic needs to continue and strategic leadership and a strong partnership with government will be critical as we look to drive forward our regional economy and address some of the key challenges which COVID-19 has created in our region.”

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

“Today’s figures show a large increase in the national unemployment rate to the end of October which is severely impacting the North East. The unemployment figure for the North East region, including the North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP areas, was at 6.6 per cent during the three months of August to October, compared to 4.9 per cent nationally.  

The North East LEP area has seen the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits increase by almost 33,000 since March. Unemployment in the North East region has increased among all age groups, but we have a particular concern about the large rise among 18- to 24-year-olds. 

These statistics reflect the period in the run-up to the end of the original furlough scheme when employers were facing tough choices in an uncertain environment. The decision to extend the scheme will protect many jobs over the winter. However, putting today’s figures alongside other data and intelligence about the impact of current restrictions and uncertainties about our future relationship with the European Union, we are likely to face further challenging data in future months. 

It is essential that Government continues to support the economy until controls can be released and that we finalise a deal with the European Union.” 

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The benefits of open innovation

Many people don’t know what open innovation means, but ultimately, it’s just a way of working together to develop competitive advantage, says Alan Welby, director of innovation for the North East LEP.

While businesses frequently rely on their internal teams and knowledge to develop a competitive edge, open innovation can provide an exciting and beneficial alternative.

Open innovation can take lots of different forms and is often described in a variety of ways. For example, people might use the terms challenge activities or sprints but at its core, the premise is very simple. It’s a means of sharing a work context or problem within a safe wider environment so that partners, and sometimes even competitors, can help find a way forward.

It’s the idea behind Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme that we are running here at the LEP.

We are offering SMEs up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges caused by COVID-19, with the possibility of being in the running to win a grant of up to £40k to scale the most impactful solution in each area.

The first call in the programme is called ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’ and it seeks answers to how people might be able to gather safely again indoors and outdoors, while achieving an engaging experience for those watching at home.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Safe Again: Adapting home-based services’. Those who have ideas for new ways of working for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be eligible for funding and development support.

We’re excited and hopeful about what the regional business community will come up with. The North East is a place that traditionally likes to solve problems and is entrepreneurial by its very nature.

A great example of this is the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival where, to use their own description, they “gather some of the greatest and most innovative minds from the worlds of business, science, tech, engineering, utilities and customer services and get them to tackle real world problems together in a series of sprints.”

To achieve this, they create a trusted environment in which issues can be discussed and collaborative solutions found. The goal is for this type of approach to become mainstream.

Through Challenge North East we want to show that we are better at open innovation than elsewhere in the UK and become a hotspot for this kind of thinking and action. That needs us to create a culture in which looking outwardly to innovate is the norm, so that our organisations flourish and other businesses want to invest here.

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Challenge North East launched to fund solutions to solve COVID-19-related issues

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is calling on the regional business community to help it solve some of the biggest Coronavirus-related problems.

Through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme, the LEP is offering support to SMEs as it seeks to address critical issues facing the North East marketplace while it adapts to a COVID-19 world.

SMEs will be given up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges, with the possibility of being in the running to win a grant of up to £40k to scale the most impactful solution in each area.

The first call in the programme is entitled: ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’. This seeks answers to how people might be able to gather safely again indoors and outdoors, while achieving an engaging experience for those watching at home.

Those interested in helping solve this challenge are invited to attend a virtual launch event on 9 December to hear from organisations who are supporting Challenge North East, including The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Newcastle United Foundation, and learn about how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Solutions could revolve around the creative direction of events, digital opportunities, COVID-19-related measures, how people move round venues, public confidence and more.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Adapting In-Home Services’. COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the delivery of services in peoples’ homes, impacting safety, confidence and trust and increasing the need for new approaches. There is also a growing need to ensure in-home service standards remain high. This challenge will launch with a virtual event on 10 December, which will discuss the scope of the challenge and outline how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Ideas for new ways of working and support for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be well eligible for funding and development support. This challenge has been shaped by leading regional organisations from Housing Associations, Utilities, Community Support and Social Care, among others.

Alan Welby, director of innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Two of the best things about the North East are its entrepreneurial nature and collaborative spirit. Through Challenge North East, we want to harness both these things to resolve some of the issues that life with COVID-19 has presented.

“We’re confident that these two open innovation challenges will yield some excellent results and can’t wait to see what our regional businesses come back with.”

Challenge North East is being delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Software City.

To sign up for one or both of the launch event, and for more information, please visit: www.challengenortheast.co.uk.

Challenge North East has received funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund. The Local Growth Fund is supporting capital investments to promote innovation, economic and skills infrastructure and sustainable transport as part of the North East Growth Deal.

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Reaction to today’s Spending Review – 25 November 2020

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East LEP gave her reaction to today’s Spending Review: 

Today’s Spending Review has set out the scale of the challenge we face to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. The Chancellor is expecting to see a decline in economic activity and rise in unemployment with a long-lasting impact for many years.   

He is therefore right to focus on the recovery of the labour market with support for those who lose their jobs or need to retrain and to focus on the levelling up of the UK economy. We look forward to more details about the Levelling Up Fund and the early stages of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. We welcome the confirmation of the financial package to support the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. The North East has a strong role to play in delivering this plan.  

The proposed recovery and renewal plan set out by the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group sets out our plan to address the challenges we face in our region and we will work closely with government to seek the best outcomes for our residents and economy. 

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Reaction to the Prime Minister’s Ten Point-Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

Lucy Winskell, OBE, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), today (18 November 2020) welcomed the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

She said: “The North East’s geographic, social and economic characteristics, coupled with its clean growth strengths, means it is well placed to deliver at pace and at scale on the government’s ten-point plan ambitions announced today. These represent a transformational opportunity for the region’s economy.

“We are home to a range of pioneering collaborative projects and activities across the areas identified in the plan. The North East’s strengths in offshore wind and green energy solutions align very strongly with the government’s priorities, and we are already leading the way in key areas through our Energy for Growth strategy and our collaborative networks including the North East Energy Catalyst and Energi Coast.

“We are in a strong position to lead in many areas thanks to our work to drive the electric revolution with low carbon vehicles and battery manufacture and our unique energy innovation asset base including the world’s first integrated Smart Energy Lab. We also have a world leading offshore wind cluster, crucial elements of national hydrogen trials, and nationally important heat and home energy trials.

“A greener and more inclusive economy is at the heart of the COVID-19 Recovery and Renewal plan for the region and we will continue to work closely with government and industry to play our part in the green industrial revolution, creating greener jobs and invest in greener transport options and industries of the future.”

To find out more about the North East Energy for Growth Strategy and the North East Covid-19 Recovery and Renewal Plan.

 

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