LEP chairman Paul Woolston on why these are exciting times for the North East

Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership Paul Woolston on why these are exciting times for the North East

Paul Woolston, chairman, North East LEP
Paul Woolston, chairman, North East LEP

This month I was re-elected as Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. When asked if I would like to continue in the role I had no hesitation in saying yes.

Yes, the role is challenging, but the enterprise partnership is a fantastic opportunity for the North East and it’s an honour to be a part of it.

When I first took up the position of Chair in 2011 the North East was feeling the effects of the recession. As senior partner at PWC I could see the impact it was having on both public and private sector businesses, but I also knew the potential of the North East. And unlocking this potential is the focus of the enterprise partnership.

In 2012 we commissioned Lord Andrew Adonis to lead an independent economic review of the North East. We wanted to develop a clear and candid understanding of the North East economy.

Lord Adonis, supported by a review team and international experts produced a review that focused on creating more and better jobs for the area.

It set a series of challenges and recommendations for more private sector and better quality jobs to increase productivity and provide better opportunities for the workforce.

It also reflected our own views - that through leadership, innovation and investment we can overcome the barriers and drive growth across the North East.

Since it was published the review has acted as a catalyst for much of our work.

We are providing a unified voice for the North East, working with partners to send a strong message to government that the North East is a great place to do business, lobbying government on a number of issues and opportunities, such as North Sea First. 

We have worked with our local authority partners to establish a new Combined Authority for the North East.

Together we have developed an agenda for growth and will provide unified leadership for the area to attract more investment.

We are championing innovation for the region. Last year we appointed innovation guru Prof Roy Sandbach to develop a strategy to encourage more innovation.

Through the strategy he’s set a very clear vision – for the area to become an exemplar of Smart Specialisation and open innovation.

Through our Smart Specialisation study we have developed a greater understanding of how we can achieve this, and we are now in the process of recruiting board members to lead the delivery of this approach.

We are also innovating ways of working. Last year we were one of only three local enterprise partnerships to be chosen by government to pilot innovative new approaches to skills development funding to help boost local jobs and business growth.

The Skills Pilot, which will begin in September, will deliver a new locally determined financial model for skills funding, moving away from the current ‘one size fits all’. 

It will also play a significant role in shaping Government’s policy on skills for young people and adults.  

One of the biggest challenges is maximising investment in the area. Since 2011 we have helped secure over £85m of funding. This includes £8.5m Skills Support for the Workforce, including £1.5m of local response funding which our contractors Ingeus are delivering across the North East.

We were successful in our bid for £25m Growing Places Fund and £30m Regional Growth Fund, which we used to create the North East Investment Fund and bring infrastructure projects to life.

To date the evergreen fund has supported nearly £40m of projects, creating 1,350 jobs. Led by the private sector, the fund’s investment panel is currently appraising and reviewing a further £29m worth of projects.

We’ve also recently announced an additional £17.5m for the JEREMIE programme, which will ensure the fund continues as we work up plans for JEREMIE 2.

But it not just through funding where investment is happening.

Our enterprise zone is one of the most successful in the country. Since it was opened up in 2012, it has attracted significant investment of £60m private and £60m public funding, creating over 650 new jobs and over 60,000 square metres of new or refurbished floor space.

Yesterday its success was seen at first hand by Communities and Local Government Minister Baroness Stowell.

We have also just signed our second city deal with Sunderland and South Tyneside councils. It makes us the only LEP area in the country to have two City Deals and is testament to the growing confidence government has in the area. 

But this is just the beginning of the story.

This year we published our North East Strategic Economic Plan and European Strategy. Together they set out how we can create more and better jobs and present a fantastic opportunity for the area.

The economic plan’s proposals focus investment where it is needed most and where there is greatest potential.

Focusing on developing skills, business support and access to finance, innovation opportunities as well as upgrading our infrastructure and maximising our economic assets the plan also forms our negotiations with government for up to a £120m share of the £2bn Regional Growth Fund.

The European Strategy will further build on this. Our £460m allocation of European Funding is one of the largest in the country, and together with the economic plan will provide a framework for growth that will bring investment and opportunity to the area.

There is still much to do. We are beginning a new phase for the North East economy and I am excited about what together we can achieve.


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