The North East is a great place to live, visit and do business. We hide our light under a bushel far too often for my liking and it’s time we started boasting about what we have to offer – an approach that doesn’t seem to have done the Americans any harm.
Those with reasonable memories will recall the Regional Image Campaign (known as “Passionate People, Passionate Places”), which was one of the greatest achievements of One North East and its ambition, scope and buy-in helped move the North East forwards in terms of how we are perceived outside our own borders.
But behind the glossy adverts and stylish TV advertisements, the key message was always clear – our region has a great deal more to offer than most people realise.
A great quality of life, excellent innovative businesses and some of the most stunning scenery in the whole of the UK.
One key ambition of that campaign was to stimulate growth, bring people and businesses to the region and increase wealth across the North East. The latter has become something of a hot debate topic over recent weeks with Ed Miliband setting out Labour’s plans to give companies tax breaks if they pay their staff the proposed “living wage”.
A far better way to do this would be instead of giving tax breaks, pay this money back to businesses as a training allowance.
If we are to drive up wages then there is no reason why we should also embrace the opportunity to drive up skills and incentivise businesses to do that.
At an NECC dinner the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, echoed the need to drive up wages, outlining how many people in work had suffered an effective pay cut due to pay freezes in recent years.
While it is important that we continue to strive to increase prosperity across the region, it must be done in tandem with increasing skills and not be achieved at the expense of the economic progress across the private sector.
It is vital that the needs of business, most of which have been forced to take some incredibly tough decisions in the current economic climate, are not compromised with the introduction of new legislation.
Consumer confidence and general slow growth has impacted upon wages across business, but responsible companies in the North East are working hard to ensure their low wage earners are looked after, with a number of members reporting wage rises for lower earners within their companies.
I hope the responsible approach by business can be mirrored by any Government looking to implement changes in the current climate.