Pulling together to create jobs and regenerate region
What a delight to read the front page headline in The Journal on Saturday morning – United at last: Councils in link-up to boost jobs.
Readers of this column and many of my acquaintances will know this has been a subject on which I have been passionate since the regional development agency One North East was closed.
I am delighted and applaud the leadership of the seven council leaders in having the courage to make this commitment for the benefit of the region.
Now that we have established the principle, it is time to get down to work and start marketing the region. This requires economic development and regeneration offices in each council, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) and the private sector (which includes me, my competitors, colleagues) working together to make a real difference.
I appreciate that there needs to be a statutory base for this to work, but there is no reason why we cannot start now to garner our strengths and plan a work load that will help in the economic regeneration of the region and create jobs. This is particularly important for the construction sector which is flat on its back, and especially to kick-start the housing sector in the region.
My first question is: What are the barriers to creating development in the region? My answer is: lack of demand and finance.
Public finance fell off a cliff along with the banking crisis in 2007. Prior to that we had enjoyed grants supplied by the European Union and UK governments.
While public money is still available it is in the form of a loan and this requires a development scheme to be ‘viable’.
With a declining economy and little demand, this is a huge challenge. But some councils have stepped up to the plate and made investments to support development that will create economic regeneration and jobs.
The NELEP also has funds available, such as the Growing Places Fund, to help kick start development. This is a much harder road than the grant regime we enjoyed through the 1990s to mid-2000s but a lot more sustainable.
We need to box a lot cleverer with the availability of public money. As well as weaning the region off a grant culture, we must ensure that the money available creates more viable development. It needs to support new projects to the point that the private sector sees the region as an area of lower risk for investment and as profitable, if not more so, than other regions.
This will only be achieved by increasing demand, from indigenous businesses as well as inward investors. The region is good at this with some notable successes over the years – but we need to be better.
There is no shortage of innovation and ideas.
The North Bank River Tyne, Blyth and Sunderland are all working toward attracting low carbon sector businesses, linked with the skills in the maritime and marine sectors; Durham has culture, heritage and innovation working with its international higher education reputation; and Newcastle has financial and professional services. Collectively, the region has a fine reputation for high value engineering, the only region in the UK adding to the GDP by exporting. In addition, the people of the North East have a good reputation for being adaptable with a willingness to train and adopt competitive work practices.
With all of this we need to tell the outside world that we are here, open for business, can deliver and that the combination of public and private sector working together gives investors confidence that there is growth and stability from which they can produce and make profitable returns. Companies in the property and construction sectors are already collaborating, despite in many cases being natural competitors. Major firms of chartered surveyors meet under the title G9, while the development sector and professional services have come together as Developing Consensus.
They are very willing to help and welcome the combined authority that brings together the councils of Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Durham, Northumberland, North and South Tyneside. Jointly we must ’sell ’ the North East as a competitive world so that investors will see the benefits of investing here.
The next step is to develop a marketing plan for the region for the next three to five years and to implement it within the next few months.
As a region we always had great ambition and now we also have the focus, in both the public and private sectors, to work together to achieve the vision.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Kevan Carrick .
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