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North East Local Enterprise Partnership: Delivering the skills strategy of the last ten years

From the start, we had the bold ambition at the North East LEP to become a national exemplar for skills, social mobility and inclusivity, says skills director Michelle Rainbow. It’s why we’ve consistently championed an ‘each and every’ approach, which has been at the heart of the Strategic Economic Plan, ensuring nobody is left behind. It’s been quite a journey.


When I first joined the North East LEP, the approach to skills and inclusion was very theoretical.

One of my first jobs was to humanise the economic data, make it all about people, and how we could get systems moving and stop those needing extra help from falling through the cracks.

We needed something to be delivered through our partners to fix the systemic issues holding people back.

Our initial focus was on older workers, how to support people back into work, how to deliver digital inclusion, how to retain graduates within the region, how to become attractive to new investment in the region and how to have the right pipeline and skilled workforce for businesses to grow and thrive.

These were big challenges and we had to address them all.

Ten years is a long time for economic development and regional skills policy.

Since 2014, we’ve seen many leaders come and go.

Each new Prime Minister and secretary of state brought different policies and priorities, which meant working closely with the Department for Education (DfE) to navigate each change.

Establishing good working relationships with the DfE, other Government departments and partners within the North East was a priority from the start.

We knew that to have a serious impact, we’d need a depth of trust enabling mutual challenges regarding how money should be spent.

We developed excellent relationships with further education colleges, schools, universities and independent training providers – and it made a difference.

People knew we were there to listen and were striving to do the right thing with the budgets, constraints and influence we had.


  • Michelle Rainbow, North East Local Enterprise Partnership skills director


Similarly, we welcomed their honesty, commitment and equal ambition to deliver everything to the highest standards.

In time, our consistent approach to skills partnership working and delivery led to the North East being chosen to pilot various initiatives.

The most well-known was the Career Benchmarks, which was later rolled out more widely by the Gatsby Foundation, which initiated and funded the scheme.

The success of this led to the Government launching new statutory guidance for schools on how to deliver careers education with the Gatsby Career Benchmarks at the heart.

This legacy is one the team and I are very proud of.

Having a genuinely strategic long-term plan and sticking to it meant we weren’t blown about too much by political headwinds.

Being led by the evidence helped to steady the ship through the turbulence of the pandemic, the UK’s exit from the EU and challenges facing the education landscape post-COVID-19.

Having clear goals with a clear message was really helpful to everyone involved with strategy, policy and delivery.

A hugely positive development as we move forward is the fact we will have scope and remit we haven’t had to date.

You cannot disconnect things like employment and inclusion from health, housing and transport.

While before we could go so far in economic development terms, through the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority, we’ll be able to go much further and connect all these things up.

These significant step-changes as we merge into the new combined authority, and get more funding and powers, are welcomed here and by our partners.

I can’t wait to be part of the team to make this happen.

April 15, 2024

  • Business & Economy
  • Promoted

Created by North East Times