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Business & Economy

NGI conference looks at North East COVID-19 response and plans for region’s prosperous future

More than 200 North East businesses came together to hear about the region’s response to coronavirus at a virtual conference.

The event, run by public and private sector partnership NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI), saw leaders from the region talk about the current response to coronavirus, how the North East economy can be re-started and ways to re-imagine the region’s future.

There was a showcase of the region’s resilience and how it has adapted and innovated to protect lives and support the economy.

Examples included the opening of a multi-million-pound regional COVID-19 hub, hosting the UK’s first-ever socially distanced gig and vital life science research, Christmas flash mobs down the Tyne, virtual Christmas markets and the development of a web-based application to enable city centre social distancing.

During the conference, businesses were asked when they expected to return to normal operations – 33 per cent of respondents believed it would be by the end of this year, but 31 per cent thought it would take until 2022 with a further 18 per cent believing it would be 2023 before their business would be back to pre-pandemic levels.

Part of the event examined the impact of coronavirus on the tourism sector, which included a 50 per cent reduction in visitor numbers to NewcastleGateshead in 2020, as well as a 55 per cent loss in revenue and an estimated 12,000 job losses.

Attendees heard from tourism minister Nigel Huddleston about how the Government is supporting the hospitality and tourism industry through the pandemic.

He said: “We have worked hard to provide support to the tourism industry throughout the difficult challenges of 2020, including through the Job Retention Scheme, cash grants, VAT cuts, and business rates relief.

“Now, thanks to the vaccine, we can be more optimistic for 2021.

“The tourism industry has a strong track record of creating jobs and driving consumer spending and I will be doing all I can to support it when it is safe for it to re-open.

“I was impressed by the positive and collaborative attitude of the speakers and attendees at this event, and I look forward to visiting the region to see the tourism recovery work first hand.”

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes, Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, North East Local Enterprise Partnership chair Lucy Winskell and Dame Jackie Daniel, chief executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, were among those to set out the region’s health and economic response to the pandemic and plans for restarting the economy. 

Councillor Forbes said: “Over the last 12 months we have faced extraordinary social and economic challenges, and our city’s collaborative response is testament to the strength of our relationships.

“The vaccine is offering hope for the future, but we must continue to work together to roll the vaccine out as quickly as possible, control the virus and mitigate its impact on both our communities and economy.

“Our city’s public and private sectors have a real ability to work together, and this pandemic has demonstrated the very best our city has to offer.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person for the sacrifices they have made and the business community for its pragmatic and constructive way of engaging with us throughout this crisis.

“It has been a huge city effort with everyone pulling together to protect our people, the NHS and economy.

“Despite challenges on the horizon, this event really highlighted a united sense of purpose, which will support our city to come out stronger.”

Councillor Gannon said: “It was great to see the business community come together to discuss the region’s recovery and how we can re-imagine the future.

A vital part of our future will be NewcastleGateshead Quays, which will not only provide us with a world-class events space but much-needed employment and training opportunities.” 

Sarah Green, chief executive at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, added: ” I could not be prouder of the resilience and dedication the region has shown in response to this pandemic.

“The fact that more than 200 leaders, businesses and people joined our conference shows the level of ambition to work together to re-imagine, rebuild and grow our economy.

“Our city has not only shown resilience throughout the pandemic, but it has also adapted and innovated to balance the health of the public with the needs of our economy.

“I have no doubt the city will continue to work collaboratively, supporting us to build consumer confidence, create and protect jobs and develop the skills needed to build back stronger.

“We cannot just plan for recovery, we know that our experiences through this pandemic will have shaped a different future, accelerated some changes and created new paradigms.

“We want to work with our partners to re-imagine Newcastle and Gateshead and build on the determination and resilience of the North East, to create a more inclusive, greener and more entrepreneurial place.

“This conference was just the beginning of a city-wide dialogue on a long-term city vision.”

Supported by Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council and by working with more than 170 private sector partners across the North East of England, the focus of NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s activity is economic growth; working to change perceptions and position the region as an international destination of choice for businesses, investors, visitors, events, students, and talent.