When Sir John Hall told a gathering of North East entrepreneurs that the region needed to “start thinking big…like the Victorians” with big ambitions, he was quite right.
Sir John was advocating the need to grow the regional population and for business to be at the heart of that growth, creating opportunities for personal and regional growth, leading the North East into a stronger future.
His comments weren’t pie-in-the-sky, headline grabbing nonsense. I suspect Sir John has created more headlines through the course of his business career to not be desperate to create more through controversial comment. These were the considered thoughts of a man who, over 50 years, has created jobs and wealth here in the North East, not least through the hugely ambitious creation of the Metrocentre.
Sadly, however, the response from at least one MP missed the point completely. The comments of Nick Brown in The Journal showed a lack of understanding among some politicians, when it comes to grasping the role of business in providing jobs and wealth to the region, and the positive impact this has on communities.
Entrepreneurs, not only at the level of Sir John, but those leading businesses across the region, drive growth in the economy. They start and build businesses that transform lives and communities.
If, like myself and many of those I am proud to call my peers, you accept that entrepreneurship is so powerful and transformational, why doesn’t the whole business community get behind it and champion entrepreneurship in this region?
A huge amount of work is going on in our schools, colleges and universities to promote entrepreneurship as an alternative career, and business leaders have embraced the drive for apprenticeships. But we also need to bring people here from outside the region to show them the opportunities. This can best be achieved with a unified voice of all business leaders.
If business leaders create this combined voice and amplify all the benefits of private sector growth, backed up with the evidence at hand, we can demonstrate leadership and make a difference. This means reaching out to other parts of the country and overseas in a structured, methodical programme of activity, to bring opinion formers, decision makers and multipliers to the North East – and wow them with the undeniable truth of our regional potential. What we have here, in terms of culture, entrepreneurship and infrastructure, forms the basis of a region that can not only deliver now, but which can grow to support extra people, more businesses and greater growth.
We have some very strong businesses and organisations active in the region, including the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, Institute of Directors (IoD), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Federation of Small Businesses, Family Business Association and EEF, the Manufacturers’ Organisation, as well as being home to the only regional Chamber of Commerce. These include vocal supporters of our region, such as Regional IoD Chairman Graham Robb, who I know supports the beliefs held by myself and Sir John.
We are not, as those who miss the point seem to think, advocating helicoptering in a million more people and then worrying about how to employ them. We are talking about driving investment within and into the region, in both business and infrastructure, to create the growth, which can then sustain increased numbers of people.
We are talking about business coming together with a unified voice to support business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which can secure vital funding and powers for the region, to make the North East more efficient and, ultimately stronger. It’s a voice to champion apprenticeships and entrepreneurship, creating real career choices.
We have the ambassadors for business in the North East, not only in figures such as Sir John, Graham and the CBI’s Liz Mayes, but in those people who have already prospered and created jobs and wealth on their entrepreneurial journeys, illustrating just what can be achieved in a unified North East business environment.
If we act together, in this unique way, the prospective benefits for the North East are very exciting.
Nigel Mills is chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.