Ahead of the North East Development Conference; supported by the North East Combined Authority, we’ve been speaking exclusively to Helen Golightly – Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – to hear about the exciting opportunities for economic growth across the region…


Q. The North East LEP plays a crucial role in driving economic growth across the region. Tell us a little about your organisation and what you do.

A. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is responsible for driving economic growth here in the North East region. We’re a public, private and education sector partnership and our activity spans the local authority areas of County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland. We have a dedicated, talented team who work closely with our partners throughout the North East LEP area.


Q. You launched your ambitious Strategic Economic Plan in 2014. What progress has been made in the area since then?

A. The Strategic Economic Plan is the document which spells out how we will achieve our aim of creating 100,000 more and better jobs in the North East. We first published the Plan in 2014 and revisited it last year, publishing a refreshed Strategic Economic Plan for the North East in early 2019. Our ambition remains the same but the Plan was updated to reflect changes in the global and national economy, ensuring we’re positioned to move forward strongly in the current political and economic climate and that we are able to build on the many opportunities presented by the industries of the future.

I’m very happy to be able to say that, since 2014, 74,000 jobs have been added to the North East economy – meaning that we are nearly 75% of the way towards achieving our target.


Q. The plan was developed with extensive consultation with the community, industry and wider society. What did you change about your plans based on this consultation?

A. The purpose of all the consultations we carry out is to test and challenge our plans and we pride ourselves on being open and honest in our approach. Everything we do is based on evidence and research, and the North East Strategic Economic Plan is no different. The consultation we carried out with businesses, business support organisations and stakeholders reinforced that the approach we are taking is correct, and the support of our many partners and stakeholders continues to be vital as we work together to drive the plan forward.


Q. The LEP is trying to build on the areas where the North-East has a competitive advantage. Which areas in particular does the North East have strengths in?

A. We have a particular focus on sectors which we know are areas of growth and which have the potential to bring more jobs and investment to our region – health and life sciences; digital; advanced manufacturing; and subsea, offshore and energy technologies – and construction is also recognised as a key enabling sector within the North East Strategic Economic Plan. These are sectors where the North East excels and our work ensures that the right business environment, facilities and infrastructure are in place to support these sectors as they expand.


Q. The LEP is looking to develop specifically “good” jobs, does this represent a change in how development is considered?

A. We are aiming to bring 100,000 more and better jobs to the North East and we define ‘better’ jobs as those in managerial, professional and technical roles. This includes many skilled roles in the construction industry. It’s an area full of innovation and one which we showcase to young people in the region through our skills programmes and our work with schools, colleges and universities. Through this we not only aim to make sure that people in our region are aware of the huge range of opportunities and routes open to them when it comes to careers, but also that our young people develop the skills which are needed by our thriving industries, securing a pipeline of future talent for employers.


Q. What key sites is the LEP wanting to bring forward?

A. Recent months have seen exciting developments at a range of sites including the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) and Centre for Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (CeSAM), both in Sunderland, while in Newcastle we’ve seen more developments on Newcastle University’s Helix site which is a global centre for urban innovation. The North East is also home to a number of Enterprise Zones – sites which are primed for development and which are situated across the region in rural, urban and port locations.

It’s exciting to see projects like these come to fruition and there’s plenty more good news to come over the next few months, at locations across our region.


Q. How is the LEP ensuring that there is infrastructure to support the new development?

A. Transport and digital connectivity, and environmental infrastructure are all key to our work. We work closely with regional transport colleagues to prioritise and invest in road and rail infrastructure and we also work in partnership with our ports and airports, which together provide the necessary transport infrastructure to underpin our growing economy. Digital infrastructure is also a focus, including the testing of 5G technologies and expansion of fibre in the region. And in terms of environmental infrastructure, we work with the Environment Agency and other partners to provide the right environmental infrastructure for growth.


Q. What are opportunities will the upcoming North East Development Conference bring to the North East LEP?

 The North East Development Conference is an opportunity for us to showcase the assets we have here in the North East to developers and investors from outside the region. The North East is an amazing place and I’m looking forward to creating new partnerships and telling people all about the fantastic opportunities that our region has to offer.