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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.