Helen Golightly, chief operating officer of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership
Helen Golightly, chief operating officer of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership says prospects are much brighter for the region.
The North East economy has made significant and encouraging progress in recent years with record numbers of people in work and growth in key business sectors driving prosperity and new opportunities. It’s certainly a far more vibrant and positive regional picture than when we unveiled the North East’s original Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) nearly three years ago.
The SEP clearly sets out how the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and the North East Combined Authority support economic growth and the advice we give to Government about the most important investments needed for our area. It focuses on areas that will make our regional economy tick: innovation, business support, access to finance, skills, employment, economic infrastructure, transport and digital connectivity.
The economic data in the first SEP was based on a period as we emerged from recession – and as we head into 2017, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and North East Combined Authority are preparing to unveil a refreshed SEP, based on new data and analysis. The refreshed SEP will reflect the changing economic climate and provide a sharpended focus on those sectors which bring greatest value to our economy.
The evidence underpinning it paints a far more positive picture of the North East economy moving forward. It reveals the resilience and innovation of a region which is striving to contribute its full worth to the UK. More people are in work in the North East than ever before; the latest Office of National Statistics survey revealing 1.215m employed, that’s 51,000 more people in work than 12 months ago. The rate of growth in the number of people in work in our region is growing faster than the English average and we are continuing to narrow the employment rate gap with the English average too. The number of people out of work has fallen again, with nearly 30,000 fewer people unemployed now compared to one year ago.
We are also seeing a continuation in the rise of permanent jobs for both men and women which is encouraging. It remains a concern however that the number of people, who are economically inactive, is rising. The reasons for this are unclear but could be related to a fall in the number of people in self-employment in the North East over the past year, in contrast to the national trend, and unstable jobs. This requires further investigation into what is a complex picture. Our concern at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is to ensure that the quality of employment opportunities continues to improve.
Of the new jobs created in our region, the majority are in higher skilled, better paid roles. The North East remains on course to meet the overarching aim of the SEP – to create 100,000 more and better jobs in the decade up to 2024. Inward investment is playing an important role in sparking this new jobs growth. The North East continues to attract investment from other parts of the UK and internationally.
Over the past two years, the region has secured 204 inward investments leading to the creation of nearly 9,500 new jobs.
More than 130 of these projects were from overseas, with three-quarters of these reinvestments in existing companies. Thirty-eight investments were made by US firms, 16 by Japanese investors, nine by French and German companies respectively – and businesses from 21 other countries showed their confidence in the North East economy by committing to invest here.
Digital and creative, financial and professional business services, automotive and advanced manufacturing are the sectors leading this new raft of investment. There are solid economic foundations to build upon in 2017 and our region received a major boost to its strategic economic growth plans when the Government, European Union and European Investment Bank signed off on the £145m North East Fund for business investment.
Over the next five years, this finance will be loaned to some of the region’s fastest growing and most ambitious companies. It will help entrepreneurs plan with more certainty for growth, encourage more job creation and fuel the expansion of the sectors key to growing the North East economy.
The North East LEP and North East Combined Authority worked hard to ensure that every penny of this North East Fund is invested exclusively into North East businesses.
It is estimated that The North East Fund could provide financial support for 600 businesses; help create around 2,500 jobs in the next five years and a further 1,000 jobs throughout the life of the fund - and deliver a legacy fund of up to £80m over the next decade for further financial support to even more companies.