North East Automotive Alliance chief executive Paul Butler caught up with Kevin Potts of Park Executive to explain why the North East is such a hotbed of automotive manufacturing excellence.
For the benefit of those who don’t know, what is the NEAA and what makes it unique?
The NEAA is an industry-led cluster established to support the economic sustainable growth and competitiveness of the automotive sector in the North East of England. We are the UK’s largest automotive cluster and one of the fastest growing clusters in Europe.
Our aim is simple to build upon the region’s significant automotive capability and to firmly establish the North East as a global automotive powerhouse – ensuring the North East is at the forefront of the Governments strategy to ensure the technologies of tomorrow are designed, developed and manufactured in the UK.
What is the story behind the NEAA? How was it formed?
During my time at the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) I led an ERDF funded programme to develop trade through sectors as part of a UKTI (now DIT) contract. In 2015 we brought together key automotive figures from the North East and the Northern Automotive Alliance presented the benefits and impact of their cluster for the North West. The North East industrialists recognised the need for an automotive cluster to deliver strategic support to, and on behalf of, the region.
How has the organisation progressed and grown since and what do you attribute this growth to?
The NEAA was launched on the 27th March 2015 and will shortly celebrate 4 years in business. Within 11 months of launch we established the NEAA as the largest automotive cluster in the UK and we have gone on to become the exemplar that other clusters follow.
This rapid growth and expansion of the cluster is down to following the key principles of cluster management excellence and being industryled. This ensures the activities of the NEAA are focused on those areas that offer the region the greatest opportunity for growth and improved regional competitiveness.
Another key factor is the breadth of skills and experience within the NEAA team. We have a very diverse, but complementary, skills set that we can draw upon to support the development of the NEAA and the activities we undertake on behalf of industry.
What has been your proudest moment since joining the alliance?
It’s difficult to pin down just one single moment. We have achieved a lot of key milestones since our launch including bronze label accreditation from ESCA after just 11 months of launch, establishing ourselves as the largest automotive cluster in the UK in just 11 months and the successful delivery of two ERDF projects which have supported 195 SMEs in the region. However, if I was to tie it down to one single moment it would have to be the fact the NEAA is recognised as the exemplar automotive cluster in the UK.
What does your typical working day involve?
There is no one typical day and that’s what excites me about my role. There is an overarching sense of supporting the region and having a positive impact on the lives of people associated with the region’s automotive sector.
What makes the North East such a hotbed of automotive manufacturing excellence?
Undoubtedly Nissan has been the catalyst for the development of the regions automotive sector. Nissan came to the UK in 1986 where they employed 470 people and produced 5,000 cars per annum. They brought with them several tier 1 suppliers such as Calsonic Kansai, Kasai and Unipres; and Komatsu established its UK operation in the region in 1987.
Over the years Nissan has grown to become the largest automotive plant in the UK producing around 500,000 cars per annum. The expertise that exists in the regions automotive sector is second to none in terms of volume manufacturing. This expertise has had significant benefits on other manufacturing sectors in the region through the transfer of skills as people move around.
However, the regions automotive sector is far more than Nissan and its supply chain. Over recent years the region has established significant capabilities in batteries, power electronics and electric motors. The acceleration towards these new technologies is unprecedented and we must capitalise on these strengths to ensure the North East is at the forefront of the UK Government’s strategy to ensure the technologies of tomorrow are designed, developed and manufactured in the UK. This has the potential to transform the region into a true automotive powerhouse.
Do you live by a certain motto?
There are two; 1) A saying introduced to me by my Great Grandmother, who was from Kibblesworth, “shy bairns get nowt”.
2) Its not a motto but more of a mentality that was embedded within me through sport, and that’s about constantly seeking to improve. The latter which is one of the reasons I find the automotive sector so exciting and rewarding.
How do you wind down when you’re not at work? Having a young family, a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, and a wife with an equally demanding job there isn’t much downtime. However, today my sporting endeavours are focused on golf and, despite not playing as regularly as I would like, I have managed to maintain my handicap of 6.
Finally, what are your future ambitions for the NEAA?
I expect the next two years to be very significant for the region’s automotive sector as we will see the fruits of our labour coming to fruition, building upon our established strengths and transforming the region into a true automotive powerhouse. We will continue to develop our membership offering and strive to attain the Gold Label of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI) by 2020. This will ensure the NEAA is at the forefront of cluster management excellence, maximising the benefits of cluster activity for the region and providing value for money for to our members.