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The New North East
Last week I celebrated an anniversary marking 30 years in business and I also had real cause for reflection on the state of our region, when I was asked by a London-based organisation to give an holistic view of how we are faring. Although, I’m naturally quite positive, even I would have been hard pressed to avoid the gloom 30 years ago; unemployment in the North East then was touching 200,000 people. It came down in the 1990s, to around 150,000 and as little as four years ago it was 110,000 people. But last week, well that really is a different story. The total number of people was released and not only has our unemployment rate dropped to within a whisker of the national average, it is also lower than London. In total, the unemployed claimant count in the North East is 59,780. I am 54 years old and it has never, in my working life, been that low.
The organisation that reached out to me is Prosperity UK, a politically independent think tank that helps business leaders, academics and policy-makers to look constructively at a future outside the EU and how we build an open, dynamic and balanced economy, which maximises prosperity for all. The organisation is hosting conferences with Cabinet Ministers at locations around the UK. The North East conference is on 20th September.
Prosperity UK wanted to establish the agenda for the North East conference and has settled on the title, ‘The New North East’. But what is the New North East? Certainly the unemployment numbers tell us something of the economic confidence firms are experiencing in the region. As an employer I am always aware that giving somebody employment is a serious matter. You are providing an income that will pay for somebody’s mortgage, financial commitments such as a car loan and the cost of raising a family. It is a serious undertaking not embarked upon lightly, the fact that over the last year 11% of all the UK’s reduction in unemployment came from the North East illustrates just how upbeat our employers are. The fall here is three times greater than our share of population and leaves the North East with an employment rate of 73.6% of all adults aged 16-64, the highest ever since records began.
Furthermore, in the New North East, productivity growth has bucked the national trend, productivity is rising faster than anywhere else in the UK and wage growth is meaningful, with median hour wages for full time workers also rising more here than elsewhere.
The New North East is also a place of great change and innovation. When I started work in 1980, there was no car plant in the region. Now, we are host to a large scale international plant and the automotive supply chain that has grown up around it and is exporting to vehicle manufacturers around the world. Fifteen years ago we had a few well-known tech businesses, such as the formidable Sage plc, but now we have a digital sector so big it has formed Dynamo North East, one of the largest IT sector bodies in the UK with a membership that employs nearly 50,000 people.
We play host to businesses which lead the UK in numerous sectors from motor dealerships to bio-science, from clean energy to robotics. The New North East is a place of diverse economic activity, entrepreneurship, vision and ambition.
We are no longer lagging behind our country and in many areas we are streets ahead. Just a few recent stand out moments from the Journal’s own business pages illustrate the changes: Avid Technologies scored a hit with a £20million R&D project to enable Jaguar to develop hybrid cars; Newcastle will soon be the location of Britain’s first ‘Smart Street’, using sensors to collect data on everything from congestion to parking spaces; Newcastle clothes retailer END was named one of the UK’s top growing exporters.
The New North East is not without its problems, some of our towns have been hit hard by high street closures and we can still be the victim of a branch mentality, such as the news that Nestle is to move some chocolate bar production from its factory in Newcastle, but on balance the New North East is in great shape to face the future.
The Prosperity UK conference is a great chance to tell decision maker about our region’s potential and discuss the opportunities that lie ahead. If you want to come you can register here: http://tiny.cc/qutruy