What unites our businesses is a desire to see the North East of England go from strength to strength. The North East is a vital part of the UK economy and continues to have a consistently positive balance of trade; is the fastest growing region in the north and has a wealth of businesses that are world leaders in their field.
This all sounds very straightforward but historically these strengths have not been recognised by decision makers and investment in the region has suffered.
The Government’s approach to economic development has been characterised by a desire to push decision making away from Whitehall and into the regions. This presents a significant opportunity for North East England to shape its own economic future.
So, what is the role of business in the Northern Powerhouse Agenda? I believe the region must not leave the responsibility of championing North East England to those signing the agreements.
The onus is on all stakeholders in the regional economy to champion the North East wherever possible.
This region is a great place to do business, yet too few people outside of the region hear that message.
Our region is the engine room for the Northern Powerhouse. We have some of the best parts of the economy here, underpinned by a robust manufacturing and engineering sector that drives our exports to such an extent that we boast the only positive balance of trade in the country. A successful Northern Powerhouse starts by harnessing these regional strengths and building on them.
We must prove we are a joined-up region, that our private and public sectors work together and that we are ready to play our part in rebalancing the economy.
The devolution deal will see a total of £1.3 billion funding channeled through to the whole of the North East. This investment and greater localised powers over employment and skills, transport, planning, business support and investment puts the destiny of the region’s businesses in its own hands.
Having power over skills will strengthen the future of employment in the North East as Judith Doyle, chief executive and principal of Gateshead College explains: “What we need is for business and education to work together and to make sure funding infrastructure supports the development of skills at every level. It is people that will make our businesses prosper; people with the right skills, attitudes and abilities.”
North East business has the opportunity to use this historic deal to gain momentum and ensure the region becomes the engine room driving forward the Northern Powerhouse.
We can act swiftly to remove barriers to growth as we are no longer hampered by a ‘one size fits all’ economic strategy that may work in the South East, but falls short of the mark when applied elsewhere.
We demanded a regional voice, but now we can add our weight to a collective northern roar and, as businesses, we must do everything in our power to grasp this opportunity we have waited so long for.
There is certainly a sense of optimism in the North East air.
Lee Perkins, managing director, Sage UK & Ireland believes it’s an exciting time: “Not only can North East businesses keep up with competitors around the UK, I believe we can leap frog them. There has been an increase in confidence. Now, we need to work together and believe in ourselves.”
Indeed, working together is a recurring theme for businesses in making the Northern Powerhouse a success.
For both the Tees Valley and the North East Combined Authority, we must set ambitious, but achievable targets, put aside parochial short-term fixes and concentrate on areas and projects that will deliver long-term sustainable economic benefits.
Achieve this and we will grasp the opportunity afforded us by devolution to lead the Northern Powerhouse and reap the benefits it will bring.
Fail and we face missing the opportunity of our generation. We want to be proud that we grasped the opportunity of devolution with both hands and enabled the North East to fulfill its potential.