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In conversation: Lucy Winskell OBE and Helen Golightly

The North East LEP recently welcomed Lucy Winskell as its new Chair. Here Lucy and Helen Golightly, its chief executive, talk about the role and their aspirations for the future.

Managing a senior team transition can be challenging at any point but COVID-19 has changed everything. Is this a good time for a new Chair to join the North East LEP?

Lucy: It’s a great time to join the North East LEP. There has been a huge amount of brilliant work carried out by Helen, the Board and the Executive team and it’s not for a new Chair to put a red pen through that. The Strategic Economic Plan was created and refreshed using the most up to date evidence and remains fit for purpose. The same applies to the work being carried out by the COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

The Board already offers an incredible wealth and breadth of experience and includes dynamic local authority leaders, innovative business people and strong representation from the VCSE sector. I see my role as being a fresh pair of eyes, bringing my experience and new perspective to bear to support the work already underway until we can get back to where we were as an economy pre-COVID-19.

Helen: Lucy’s arrival comes at an excellent time during a period of transition. She is very welcome as a new critical friend who can help us engage with and influence Government on its policies, as well as respond as needed to the changes yet to come.

How will the handover period work and what do you see as initial priorities?

Lucy: We’re well underway with this as we utilised the time between my appointment being approved and official start date to bring me fully up to speed and maximise my time with the outgoing Chair, Andrew Hodgson.

I’ve worked alongside Andrew for years so it’s been incredibly straight forward, although admittedly there is still lots to do, especially where it comes to understanding and acting on Government priorities.

Helen: Our initial focus centres on the team getting to know Lucy and vice versa and ensuring she feels settled with the Board.  It is crucial alongside this to continue with our partnership working as this remains the path to success moving forward. Finally, it’s important we closely monitor changes to the economy so we can respond in an appropriate and timely way.

How will the Executive team and Board work together as the LEP navigates this next period of transition?

Lucy: To echo what Helen said, this next period will continue to be about partnership and collaboration. We’re keen that all parties, from the Board and Executive team through to our partners, are all aligned behind the Strategic Economic Plan and work of the COVID-19 Economic Response Group – in this way we can make a bigger difference in a faster way.

Helen: How we work together comes down to our values as they underpin everything we do. These revolve around the key pillars of making a difference, being better together, thinking bigger and doing the right thing – a great way to do business whoever you are and whatever you do.

What are your ambitions for the region going forward?

Lucy: I’m very keen to see the North East maximising all the opportunities available to us and that requires a good understanding of Government – and Government understanding the needs and priorities of the North East. It would be fantastic for the region to lead the levelling up agenda rather than this being a top down approach. I also want to see us making strong progress against the targets set out in the Strategic Economic Plan.

Ultimately this current crisis will leave scars for some but we want people to know that we are doing everything we can to lead this region back to health through a plan that is both realistic but optimistic.

Helen: The region is clearly still experiencing a difficult period but we are very resilient. The North East has a significant role to play in UK plc so we will be lobbying for the resources we need to unlock potential and make a difference. We are poised to further transform our region and need Government to partner with us to unlock the potential for our residents and businesses.  Our video sums this up.

What will success look like for you both in twelve months’ time?

Lucy: In a year from now, I’d personally like to see evidence that the economic response plan is working by having a positive impact on the North East, that our targets and measures are being met and that Government understands the region’s specific strengths and challenges. I’d also like to see continued success in terms of the North East LEP securing appropriate funding and spending this in the right way.

Helen: I echo everything Lucy said, but would like to add that I’d like to also see a sense of confidence, aspiration and belief from the person on the street, be that a resident, business person or student. It matters that everyone knows we are working hard on their behalf.

Finally, what one thing would you like the business community to hear right now?

Lucy: Getting through the challenges posed by the current climate requires us to work collaboratively and we want to gather as many views as possible to inform future activity.

While the North East LEP can’t provide all the solutions, what we can do is connect, facilitate and leverage resources/offer support. It’s incumbent on us to communicate what we are doing and for the business community to communicate its needs. We’re looking for people to roll their sleeves up and help in a constructive way.

Helen: We have a very clear message. This is that the North East LEP is genuinely trying to understand the impact of COVID-19 on communities and champion everyone affected with the Government and other relevant parties. We’re here for you.