Paton of the North East LEP: Our plan for 100,000 jobs

Apprenticeships, business support and access to finance will all be crucial in creating 100,000 jobs in the region over the next ten years. Bob Paton, the new interim boss of the North East LEP, tells BQ’s Bryce Wilcock how this will work.

It's time for the region to get serious about its Strategic Economic Plan, according to the new interim chief executive of the North East LEP.

Bob Paton, who began his role a month ago, says: “I have taken on the role at a very exciting moment in time following the Adonis Review in 2013. It was this that has since led to the creation of our economic plan.

“The plan looks to improve innovation, skills, employability and inclusion, transport and infrastructure, business support and access to finance, and is also looking to make the most of the region’s economic assets.

“Four of the key areas we are looking at are continuing to grow our economy, continuing to improve our already fantastic education system, collaborating more and building upon our proud identity as working people and as a great region.

“It is now my job to help deliver the SEP and start making a real impact on the regional economy. We want to create 100,000 skilled jobs over a ten year period. I want others looking at us and coming to us to see exactly how we did it.”

When asked how growth prospects look for businesses in the region, Bob said: “We have an abundance of growing businesses in the region, from SMEs to huge corporates.

“Going forward we must ensure all businesses receive the support they need, going back to the plan of growing business support and the avenues to accessing finance that are available.

“I see prospects across the region; you just have to look at the brilliant automotive, sub-sea, technology and life sciences industries alone.”

When Bob took to the role in April, he spoke about getting young people into work and the importance that developing their skills has on the economy.

He continued: “It’s really important that we give people of all talents a chance. I left school aged 15 with no qualifications and didn’t go to 6th form or University, and I did alright.

“I’ve been lucky along the way but my goal is to create opportunities for young people that aren’t just built on luck.

“I believe it should be made easier for firms to recruit apprentices and easier for youngsters to climb onto the apprentice ladder.

“We also need to help the youth see where the jobs are and make them believe that there are opportunities for them, and those opportunities are in the North East.”

He added: “We need to ensure young people are ready for the workplace, providing good work experience by working closer with schools and businesses.

“This does not mean spending half a day walking around an office or factory, but being given hands-on work to get involved in.

“We have a fantastic education system here and a great economy, what’s not to like? We have lots of students who aren’t from region and we need to ensure they want to stay here.

“How do we retain them? We have four universities in the LEP’s region that are brilliant and we are looking to work with them and their graduates to show exactly how amazing it is to work here.”

Ashington born, he has built his entire career in the North East, spending 20 years working in the civil service before joining the global consultancy Accenture in 1992.

Bob is also vice chairman of Dynamo, the North East IT forum, which is leading work to grow the regional technology sector; is non-executive chairman of RTC North, the Sunderland-based business growth and technology transfer company; and is on the board of the University of Sunderland.

Speaking on his journey so far, Bob told BQ: “At Accenture I headed the development of the new delivery centre in the North East, going from 200 people to 450. By the end of the year, we’re hoping the headcount will have reached 700.

“This meant working very closely with local schools, colleges and universities and ensuring we have the right talent growing in the region to support the firm’s growth here, and this is exactly what we would like to do at the LEP. We aim to create not only more jobs, but more high-quality jobs.”

After getting started and putting the wheels in motion for the LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, Bob believes the time is now for the region to really push forward.

BQ look forward to following the progress of the LEP and its Strategic Economic Plan over the coming year.