Back the North to improve the nation's economy, Tories told

North East councils and business leaders bring their message to the Conservative conference

Conservative MP Guy Opperman
Conservative MP Guy Opperman

The North East could do even more to help Britain’s economy succeed - if it was given the tools to do the job, the region’s business community has warned.

Employers’ group the North East Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) to take its message to the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

Chamber Chief Executive James Ramsbotham set out a range of measures the Government could take to back the region, including improving careers advice.

But he warned the region faced a major threat from the prospect of cuts to air passenger duty in Scotland, which could disadvantage Newcastle Airport.

The gathering, at an event organised by ANEC just outside the main conference venue, also heard from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, Northumberland.

He highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse” bringing together the North East, North West and Yorkshire.

Mr Opperman urged politicians in the North East and North of England in general to work together and avoid “parochialism”. He also repeated calls for the creation of a strong regional mayor.

Mr Ramsbotham said: “The North East is really well poised to do so much, if only we can make certain that a number of things swing in our direction.”

The region had a number of strengths including high exports and improving productivity, he said.

“We’ve also got more people in work in the north East at the moment than we’ve ever had in history.

“But we could still do so much more for UK Plc. We need however the right national policy framework in which to really deliver that.”

He set out four measures to help the North East, including:

  • An improved inward investment service, to help the region attract investment from overseas
  • More support around industrial carbon capture and storage.
  • Better careers guidance, so that young people are steered towards learning skills employers need
  • More use of strategic transport assets such as the region’s two airports.

He said: “We also need to really look at the way we look at our strategic transport assets.

“Particularly things like the airport which feels under threat at the moment, with the potential of devolution of powers such as air passenger duty for Scotland, which would really damage the North East of England and I don’t think people appreciate how much.”

He added: “We really are capable of doing so much for the whole of United Kingdom.

“We can provide long term energy security and sustainability in a way that most other regions can only dream of.

“We could indeed at least double our exports again if we can just get up to the national average on the amount of businesses that are exporting. We just need the right support to make that happen.

“And indeed we need so much work to get our engineering and manufacturing businesses who could do so much more by rebalancing in a number of different ways. We in the North East could rebalance the whole of the national economy.”

Mr Opperman told the audience that the region needed more powers and an elected mayor would avoid the need to create a new tier of government.

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