For some while now I have been involved in a variety of conversations across the region around the notion of a stronger and more united ‘regional voice’ for the North East.
Call it the Northern Powerhouse debate, or speak of devolution, either way the outcome of these conversations is invariably the same: why don’t we celebrate our common qualities, instead of getting chippy about the differences between us up North and our Southern cousins?
I was born, brought up, and educated in the North East. I am incredibly proud of the friendship, humour and quiet but meaningful mutual support of almost every business and personal relationship I have ever encountered. North East family businesses are many and varied, and point to an underpinning sense of what it means to be part of the North East.
I am also enormously proud about those lights we seem to be extremely good at hiding, often under a veritable thicket of bushels (if there is such a thing).
Our innovation, our creativity, our digital prowess. The sub sea, manufacturing, life sciences and other industry sectors where we quietly get on and excel. At Newcastle University I am delighted by the consistence and excellence of our research, demonstrated through the ground breaking work being undertaken through our Institutes for Ageing (recently awarded £20m in the recent budget), Sustainability and Social Renewal. As a personal and senior tutor, I am equally consistently impressed by the many, many fantastic, high quality and hugely employable graduates we turn out consistently year after year.
The North East is home to five regional universities, and FE colleges of increasing importance as the apprenticeship agenda comes to the fore. All are powerhouses of practical and intellectual capital and various flavours of research excellence. We have five ports, all exceptional partners in international export and supporting inward investment.
Our International Airport has fought and won a window on North America, bringing new business to the region and opening new routes to export. Our transport infrastructure (as anyone who has sat in the slow traffic by Team Valley, or waited to get past Newcastle Central Station recently knows) is in the process of a significant upgrade making the North East increasingly accessible.
The quality of life in the North East is exceptional – where else can you be out of your city centre and into the beautiful Northumbria countryside or the craggy splendour of the North East coast in less than 30 minutes? Would you rather be in the dark of the Northern Line with an hour to go to get home?
Let’s make some noise. I am not convinced that we need to go anywhere to do this.
Every individual involved in the ‘regional voice’ debate, every exporting company MD and CEO, every inward-investing corporate, every academic institution, every corporate, public sector or third sector organisation could bring one or two significant supply chain partners up here for a few days. Show people around, introduce them to the unique welcome that only the North East can provide.
Come and visit the university and see the critical and ground-breaking research we are doing across all sectors. Get them to meet the facilitators - the ports, stations, airport and others who move people, product and potential around in and out of the North East.
If we do this, collectively, with one voice, we would generate hundreds of instant evangelists. The momentum would build. We are indeed a Northern Powerhouse, but we can’t sit back and hope people notice.
It is our job to tell the rest of the nation, and the world.<p/>
Dr Joanna Berry is director of external relations at Newcastle University Business School