Not So Grim Up North

Issue 69

Many of us within the business community have spent the last year (plus tax) focussing our attention on survival and working to mitigate risks brought on by COVID. To most, this has involved implementing contingencies, a bit of proactive planning and a whole lot of firefighting

Throughout this period people’s attention has quite rightly been on the here and now, but as we emerge from lockdown and the focus begins to shift back to normality, it’s important for us to look to the future and the positive things to come out of the past 12 months. The outlook for the North East economy in particular is brighter than we may have thought it would be this time last year. The first good news story of the year came by way of the budget announcements as part of the governments levelling up agenda which will have a massive positive impact across Teesside and Darlington. With so much government focus and investment currently happening in the region, this could be a period of economic renaissance for the North East. Earlier this year Teesside was awarded Freeport status, making it the largest Freeport in the UK, with scope to create at least 18,000 jobs and providing a reported £3.4bn boost to the region. In addition to the creation of new jobs, government tax incentives for companies located within the Freeport area provide a huge opportunity for investment and growth. The new status will encourage new foreign investment whilst providing opportunities for businesses within the region that operate within the supply chain and supporting sectors. As part of the same budget announcement, Darlington was named as being the new home of the Treasury, resulting in the relocation of 750 jobs to the area. Alongside this news, it was announced that the Department of International Trade will establish its new satellite headquarters in the area, creating hundreds more jobs and aiding to attract a new talent pool to the region. Of course, there is the large general positive impact this will have on the local economy, but it also creates opportunities for the professional community within the region due to their locality to the government. Besides these new investments and opportunities, there is also the continued positive news stories we see from sectors such as tech and renewables in the North East. In Q4 2020, the first of 12 UK tech cluster reports was released, with the focus being on the North East. The report highlighted our region as a hotspot for immersive technology, artificial intelligence and industry 4.0 as well as bringing attention to the number of innovative companies, support organisations and facilities in the region. Over the years this has helped attract large established tech companies such as Tombola, Epic Games, RedHat, Ubisoft, Accenture and Turnitin, who operate from the region to take advantage of the abundant talent pool and relatively low operating costs. And of course, it would be remiss of me to close this paragraph without mentioning the little-known company Sage which has been a powerhouse within the tech sector for many years. In recent months the region has also been creating waves in the sustainability and renewable sector (pun intended). Lithium-ion battery technology manufacturer Britishvolt has secured a £2.6bn investment to build its ‘Gigafactory’ in Blyth, with a potential float occurring later this year. The factory will not only give rise to around 3,000 jobs in the area but will also create significant demand for a regional supply chain and supporting infrastructure. Britishvolt is one of several companies developing technology of this kind within the area, and a significant PE driven investment has recently occurred in a similar North East based business, potentially sparking a regional boom in such innovation-based design and manufacturing (that pun was a happy accident). There have also been plans agreed to progress the development of the world’s largest offshore windfarm, located 130km off the North East coast. The Dogger Bank Windfarm will create hundreds of jobs across Able Seaton Port in Hartlepool and its operational base at the Port of Tyne. Halfdan Brustad, vice president for Dogger Bank at Equinor, said:”We want Dogger Bank to be a flagship project that leads the way in both digitalisation and innovative technology, so it is a great honour to confirm that this project will be the first in the world to use these powerful turbines. “The sheer scale of Dogger Bank brings huge opportunities to the UK. As well as being home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the North East will benefit from hundreds of jobs and local supply chain opportunities. We look forward to working with our partners and suppliers to build up a skilled team in the area, to operate and maintain these turbines for the lifetime of the wind farm, from our new base which will be constructed at the Port of Tyne.” In summary, the past year has been tough to say the least, however, from a business perspective there is a genuine cause for optimism across the region. There have been some significant changes to our economic landscape over the past 12 months which could bring opportunities across all sectors and business types. The immediate future will not be without its challenges, but this might be the time to start looking forward with some positivity. It’s not so grim up north after all!?

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