More and better jobs must be the measure of success for a devolved North East, a debate organised by The Journal has been told.
The regional devolution breakfast organised by The Journal in association with Developing Consensus attracted more than 100 people from the worlds of business and politics to take part in a question-and-answer session with a panel of experts.
North East Combined Authority chair Simon Henig, CBI regional director Dianne Sharp, Fergus Trim, director of Broadoak Asset Management, Luke Raikes, research fellow at IPPR North and Jonathan Blackie, former regional director of the Government Office North East, discussed key themes and potential flash points around North East devolution.
Chaired by BBC North East and Cumbria’s political editor Richard Moss, the discussion covered the SNP surge, the possibility of a regional mayor and the need for greater spending on transport in the North East.
There was also general agreement on the importance of presenting a united front to Westminster, and that devolution of powers to the North East would be judged a success only if it improved the region’s economy.
Coun Henig said: “We have a lot of successes in this area – automotive, subsea, pharmaceuticals – and we need to enable them to grow.
“We all know there are key skill shortages. If we get that right it will help us to get to where we need to be.”
Mrs Sharp added: “Skills is a key area – integrating the skills we need. We have new business being created here, like the CPI and the clusters around it which generate great economic engines.
“I moved North from the South in the 1980s and built a career in manufacturing for 25 years, and we want more people to move here from the south.
“We need to get long term plans that everyone will invest in to see more people like me coming to the North East.”
The event was organised at a time when boosting the Northern economy has been championed by all three main political parties.
But with extra powers going to Scotland to the north and Greater Manchester to the south, there are also concerns that the North East could be harmed by being left as other areas getting more control of their futures.
Questioned on whether the North East needed new bodies or an elected mayor to provide leadership for the North East, Mrs Sharp said: “I would like to see what we already have working better – realistically we’ll just end in another big debate about where the major should live?
“I love the North East but I know we’re great at doing ourselves down. Rather than changing the deck-chairs, can we just get on and get working really well?
“We’ve all heard the stories and business does not believe it’s working well with the LEP and there’s a level of disharmony. We want to lock them all in a room and not let them out until they’re working nicely together.”
Mr Blackie said: “We can get terribly involved in structures, leadership models and so on, but what are the good quality jobs we can get by 2020 that we can not just sustain but build? Success is where we can create a better region.”