Vital challenge of unlocking North East business potential

Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, explains the council's strategy aimed at making the city the most business-friendly in the country

Nick Forbes with Pat Ritchie
Nick Forbes with Pat Ritchie

As a city, we have great growth potential and ambition.

We are determined to make Newcastle the most ambitious and business-friendly city in the UK.

The economy and the business community are now moving from survival to recovery and it is critical that we adapt so that businesses can exploit the new opportunities which will come along.

The UK economy has picked up strongly with the OBR revising its forecast for GDP growth from 0.6% to 1.4% and October’s manufacturing output rose 0.4% from September.

Newcastle is rising up the city competitiveness rankings and we are now rated ahead of Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool and Southampton.

And a report from the Core Cities group predicts that more than 9,500 more jobs may be created in Newcastle over the next decade. This includes expected growth in professional, scientific and business services – alongside hospitality and retail.

Yesterday, we celebrated a £50m investment by Newcastle University in Science Central which will help to attract leading edge scientific organisations to invest in the site as the region seeks to play an increasingly influential role in the delivery of globally important R&D projects.

This investment will create opportunities for local people and much needed jobs for Newcastle whilst generating income for the city from business rates.

Now is the time to deepen our engagement with business to ensure that everyone can benefit from the upturn.

Today the council leader, Nick Forbes, and I will meet the city’s key businesses to reconnect and deepen our dialogue, so that we can better understand and deliver the support needed to hasten the recovery.

We will be joined by Paul Woolston, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership and Paul Callaghan, chair of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.

Now is the time to unlock the potential of business and use it not only to create prosperity but also to tackle many of the city social problems, like youth unemployment and inequalities of opportunity.

Our Working City Plan, launched last year, is our response to a deep engagement with the business community who have told us what measures we can take to help them drive growth.

We want to attract greater levels of investment, support economic growth through innovation and meet the skills needs. We also want to empower the business community to drive forward growth so that more decisions that affect Newcastle are made in Newcastle.

A key element of our Working City Plan is our capital investment programme for the next three years, allocating over £450m to projects which will lead directly to jobs and growth.

For example, we are investing nearly £13m in expanding and refurbishing Eldon Square Shopping Centre which will attract new customers and increase the competitiveness of our city centre, supporting businesses.

We are investing more than £9m in super-connected broadband to give the city’s businesses improved access to markets and allocating nearly £5m to the north bank of the Tyne to create new sites for development.

We are spending £5.5m on modernising the large crane on Walker Quay which will give our trailblazing offshore industry a competitive edge.

The capital programme is behind many of the jobs and investment-rich projects which are changing the face of the city: new homes in Scotswood and the Ouseburn, a new central station, new world leading innovation on the Science Central site and a new £200m mixed-use scheme in the Stephenson Quarter which will bring 2,200 much needed jobs.

Understanding and working closely with business is key to the economic future of the city and with our partners we have a plan for success.

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