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Digitalisation and the North East: an opportunity for growth

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has recently appointed Laura Partridge to the role of Digital Programme Lead. Here, Laura explains what the role involves and how she is working with partners in the North East digital sector to develop a programme of projects and communications activity which will strengthen the profile of the region.

At the North East LEP our ultimate ambition is to create 100,000 more jobs for the North East, and for 70% of these to be ‘better’ jobs. Our Strategic Economic Plan for the region lays out how we plan to do this, together with our partners, by 2024.

The Plan identifies areas of strategic importance – key sectors, clusters and assets which offer significant potential to build the economy and create jobs. Digital is one of these areas of opportunity, alongside energy; advanced manufacturing; and health and life sciences. Digitalisation is also recognised as a cross-cutting theme for the Plan as a whole, reflecting the increasing opportunities for digital adoption to drive productivity, improve services and change business models.

As the North East LEP’s Digital Programme Lead, my role is to work with the digital community to develop a strategy that shows how the region can add value to our existing digital strengths, assets and networks, and how we can build the profile of the North East as a smart region, sharpening our competitive advantage and increasing opportunities for growth. The strategy will be published later in the summer.

Of course, the digital landscape is, by its nature, diverse and constantly changing. Our digital community spans everything from immersive technology and artificial intelligence to gaming and software design. Looking at the future economy, digital is increasing cross-cutting, with opportunities and impacts across all sectors of industry and across society.

As a region, we have significant strengths when it comes to digital businesses. We are home to a wide range of start-ups, SMEs and large businesses delivering a range of products and services. We have fast-growing, innovative businesses which have chosen to base themselves in the region, with more than 29,000 people employed in the ICT and digital sectors in the region. We have excellence in our academic and research organisations. And we have a community of hubs and networks which are tireless in their support of the digital ecosystem. As a sector we are ambitious, innovative and skilled.

As vibrant as our sector is, we also have some key challenges to face. For example, we know that we need more incubator spaces and shared workspaces for emerging businesses. Tech businesses have told us that they often experience difficulty in accessing finance and the support they need to grow. And the sheer breadth and diversity of the sector presents challenges in how we communicate and position ourselves when talking to a national and international audience, including to potential investors.

In the wider economy, supporting established businesses to adopt digital technologies and transform their industries is going to be a fundamental requirement for the future, requiring our business support and skills programmes and our infrastructure to be continually reshaped. Through collaboration with partners we must enable individuals and companies to acquire and develop the skills they need to deliver growth and remain competitive.

We have a community of passionate, driven and entrepreneurial individuals and networks, and their expertise is a huge asset. My role will be to work with our partners in the digital sector to align our voices, identify areas of opportunity for the North East and work together to communicate the strengths of the region nationally and internationally and to support them to drive change in our economy. Over the next few months I’ll talk more about each of these themes, and how we are working alongside the North East digital community to bring more and better digital-focused jobs and to drive digital change in our region.

You can find out more about the role of digital in the North East Strategic Economic Plan here.

Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead, North East Local Enterprise Partnership.