Continued Aspirations For The North East - How The North East Lep's Work Will Live On In The New World

Issue 100

From its inception, the North East LEP has ensured that the voice of the business community has been integral to decision making. This remains a priority as we begin a new era with the establishment of the new North East Combined Authority, says Chair Lucy Winskell.

Cast your mind back to the early days of the North East LEP. Tasked with creating the blueprint for improving the regional economy that would become affectionately known as our Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), we were fortunate to have a solid foundation to build upon, as we took the baton from some great people and projects at One North East.

Twelve years have passed since then and the LEP’s people, capabilities and knowledge have continued to grow and develop, and we have seen many of those initial projects (plus many more) come to fruition.

We’re about to move into a new era of regional governance, but again, we have so much to build on as our region continues to evolve.

As with any period of change, I have spent some time looking back at the LEP’s achievements, and I am proud at how diverse and far reaching they have been.

We have been successful, despite hugely competitive funding rounds, in bidding for the Getting Building Fund and the Local Growth Fund, along with establishing the North East Investment Fund, using both Regional Growth Fund and Growing Places resources to create a long-term legacy fund.

We have helped guide the strategic investment of circa £500m from European Funding to support our economic plan, making sure that this complemented and added value to regional funds.

£270m of Local Growth Funding has enabled delivery of a range of strategic capital projects across the region, creating over 11,100 new jobs, 34km of new and improved cycleways, 14km of new roads and 420,000sqm of new and refurbished commercial floorspace.

In 2020 the North East LEP was awarded £47m from government’s Getting Building Fund for local infrastructure projects to support the region’s recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Six of the 20 public and private sector-led projects were included in a ‘Commercial Property Investment Fund’ pilot initiative that has since led to the launch of the regional Commercial Property Investment Fund, replacing the North East Investment Fund. This just shows how the North East LEP has been able to act quickly in times of market need to support organisations, from the smallest size up.

We have been able to support the region’s cultural sector, from the Auckland Castle ‘Welcome Building’ to The Sill, Northumberland National Park’s visitor centre on Hadrian’s Wall.

In our urban areas we have supported fantastic new community facilities including the Eagles Arena on Scotswood Road, the Beacon of Light in Sunderland and NUCastle in Newcastle city centre, all of which are engaging our young people, building their confidence, aspirations and offering employment support.

Let’s not forget the excellent work carried out through the Enterprise Zones, a £155m infrastructure investment programme to date, which, with the Local Growth Fund, has benefited key regional assets such as the International Advanced Manufacturing Park, the District Energy Centre at Newcastle Helix and Northumberland Energy Park – all central to growing sectors of our economy and attracting business investment.

It hasn’t all been about funding – the commitment of the board to partnership working has been exemplary. The strength and commitment of the Local Authority Leaders has been commendable. With their talented finance directors and economic regeneration directors, what a team effort it has been.

There has been exceptional value from the representatives from higher and further education and the voluntary sector, all of which are equal voices on that board. The fact that we have attracted national operators from the private sector has demonstrated a real vote of confidence in our leadership. Throughout the years constructive debate and diverse perspectives have enabled us to succeed even in the most challenging times.

Not every opportunity ended up with a win for our region – not being awarded North East England Freeport status in 2021 hit us hard, despite submitting an incredibly strong, innovative and collaborative bid. But even in our disappointment, we learned from this process and used it to help us secure funding for investment zones and a collaborative green super port.

I’ve been to some very unglamourous places in my time – supporting the creation of routes where future roads ‘might’ go, and visiting disused pits to discuss heat pumps and mine energy – but all these things are critical for the future, and it has been my pleasure to champion and support them.

Our Business Growth team has had some incredible achievements. Its Scaleup North East programme, initiated because insight showed it would have a disproportionate impact on productivity and job creation, has helped us become one of the regions with the highest scaleup rates, having previously had the lowest.

The Skills team has been equally influential. Thanks to its pioneering work through North East Ambition, the North East LEP is firmly on the map as an international exemplar in career guidance.

It’s a fact that the North East LEP has always been regarded nationally as one of the highest performing LEPs in the country. We have consistently worked within our budgets and achieved a lot with a very lean team, because we have recruited the best. We have had a key role working with other pan-regional bodies such as NP11 and Transport for the North and been an influential voice within the LEP Network.

The LEP Board in the early days will become the Business Board of the new Combined Authority and I have the privilege of continuing as interim chair until the mayor and cabinet have the opportunity to review interim working arrangements.

What has been made abundantly clear is that the views of business will continue to be integral to all decision-making. Critically, throughout the transition to this new authority, I am confident and excited about the future of our region and I am sure, like the LEP did 12 years ago, the new North East Combined Authority will continue to build on solid foundations and seize every possible opportunity for our region to thrive.

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