Viewpoint: Helen Golightly

December 4, 2019

In this issue of Viewpoint, North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks with Helen Golightly, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), on what has been achieved for the North East during the past year

Your most recent Annual Report refers to uncertainties as did the executive summary in the LEP’s ‘Our Economy 2019’ report. Can we gain ground lost during this unparalleled, sustained period of political angst?

I think we can all agree the past two years have been very challenging for businesses, not just here in the North East but across the whole country.

Brexit continues to be the issue that dominates discussion and the North East LEP has been working hard to help businesses prepare. We developed a free Brexit Toolkit for businesses, which is available on the North East Growth Hub, which provides advice and guidance on issues like employing EU staff, reviewing contracts and importing and exporting.

As a region, we’ve also not steered away and remain focused on our Strategic Economic Plan, which provides a clear direction for us to grow the economy in the North East and create more and better jobs.

The region has some great businesses, enthusiastic regional marketing and of course the efforts of the LEP. What do we need to take that quantum leap forward?

We’re in the process of working with Government and regional partners to deliver the North East Local Industrial Strategy, an evidence-based delivery plan extending to 2030 that is aligned to the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

The North East Local Industrial Strategy will work with the Strategic Economic Plan to showcase the region’s differentiating economic assets and industry strengths, which we can develop to boost productivity in the North East and improve living standards across the region.

It will show the role the North East can play by using our industrial and research strengths to support the five foundations of productivity – Ideas, People, Infrastructure, Business Environment, Places.

The North East is well placed to contribute to the UK’s ‘Grand Challenges’, which will put the UK at the forefront of tomorrow’s industries. Our region is home to the National Innovation Centre For Data and National Innovation Centre for Ageing, positioning us as industry leaders and experts in developing a data-driven economy and addressing the UK’s ageing society.

Our world-leading capabilities in renewable and clean energy, which include the UK’s flagship technology innovation and research centre for advancing wind, wave and tidal energy, The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, and the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration, ensure we are well placed to drive forward the UK’s clean growth agenda too.

What are the numbers of jobs created, say since 2014, and what is the ultimate target in five years’ time? Can you say in which sectors these job opportunities will occur?

The most recent data (to June 2019) shows the number of jobs in the North East has increased by 74,000 since 2014, with 93 per cent of those being better jobs. That’s something we’re very proud of.

As outlined in the Strategic Economic Plan, we aim to create a total of 100,000 more jobs between 2014 and 2024 so we are well on our way.

There are a number of growing sectors across the North East LEP area that are generating these new and better jobs. The North East LEP is working hard to create opportunities in these industries of the future, which include health and life sciences, digital, advanced manufacturing and energy.

You refer to five programmes of activity within your Strategic Economic Plan (SEP). What are those programmes and how confident are you that they will deliver your long-term vision for the North East economy?

As part of the development of the Strategic Economic Plan, we looked at key areas we need to improve in our region to boost the economy and create more and better jobs. They are, business growth; skills, employment, inclusion and progression; investment and infrastructure; innovation; and transport connectivity.

The North East LEP developed and leads the delivery of programmes and initiatives across the North East and works with partners to support these five areas through schemes like business support platform, the North East Growth Hub; skills initiative, North East Ambition; and funding programmes, including the Local Growth Fund – amongst others.

Our approach is based on a lot of research, evidence gathering and talking to our many partners and stakeholders. We’re confident our approach is the right one and we will continue to review the Plan going forward.

You manage the Local Growth Fund, the North East Investment Fund and regional Enterprise Zones. How does the North East directly benefit from these initiatives and do they, collectively, make the region one of the best locations for business in the UK?

We have a very focused approach to distributing funding across the region; investments must always address an opportunity or a need that fulfils the ambition of the Strategic Economic Plan. The Local Growth Fund, for example, has invested £270 million in major capital projects in all seven local authority areas.

Similarly, our 21 Enterprise Zone sites across the North East LEP region have been strategically selected to drive growth by building on local strengths, making the most of our natural and physical environment, skills and existing business base, as well as the innovation ecosystem.

Investing in infrastructure is bringing inward investment into the region because we have world-class facilities that attract world-class businesses and talent.

I note reference in your SEP to Scaleup North East. What is this?

Scaleup North East is one of our business growth programmes and it works with ambitious SMEs that can grow quickly. Fast-growing, or scaleup businesses, are good for the economy because they are often more innovative, trade in international markets and create better jobs.

We want to increase scaleup businesses in the North East LEP area by 50 per cent by 2024 and Scaleup North East is one of the ways we are doing this.

Finally, how does the LEP engage with schools and colleges to ensure bright and talented students remain in the region and help develop the strong regional economy we all seek?

Through our North East Ambition initiative, we’re supporting all schools and colleges in the North East LEP area to deliver outstanding careers guidance – starting in primary schools, right through to further education.

North East Ambition builds on our work delivering the Gatsby Career Benchmarks pilot, which was seen as transformational and now forms part of statutory guidance for schools on how to deliver careers education.

North East LEP

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