Doug Scott, Chief Executive, TEDCO
The region's economy has altered dramatically in the last two decades but Doug Scott's drive to make the North East a more enterprising place hasn’t. Karen Dent meets the man who has just won the lifetime achievement Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion.
ATTITUDES and culture are important to Doug Scott – and they’re things he’s been battling to change for the better since the late 1980s.
And that work has just been recognised with a lifetime achievement accolade in the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion – an honour that is only ever presented to one person each year.
Gateshead-born Scott, who has been chief executive of the Jarrow-based Tyneside Economic Development Company – better known by its acronym of Tedco – since 1997, had no idea he had been nominated. One of the reasons he scooped everybody else was a 10-year project to bring enterprise into the classroom.
Although organisations such as Young Enterprise were doing good work, it was a very different world from today when Government money is channeled into schools in a bid to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“I was looking at some of the data on South Tyneside and I thought that’s all well and good, but things aren’t that much better than when I came here 10 years ago,” Scott said.
“So we decided what we needed to do was to get into the local schools, so we had a programme that lasted almost 10 years in the end, between 1999-2000 and 2007-08.
“We worked in every secondary school in the borough, a bit across Tyne and Wear and in some schools across the whole region doing enterprise education.”
He admits that he was disheartened when he was faced with the attitudes of young people, particularly young boys who could see no future for themselves.
“It was in the era of closures of everything that young lads thought they could do – or that their parents had depended on; ships and coal and heavy engineering-related industries. And that was all going the wrong way in the 80s,” he said.
“I remember talking to kids who were about to leave school and who had left school and they were literally hopeless.”
He remembers listening to a local radio piece on the opening of a Barclays call centre in Sunderland’s Doxford Park.
“The reporter was going down John Street in Sunderland, microphone in hand, bumped into this young lad and said ‘what do you think, Barclays opening at Doxford Park?’ ‘That’s nae bloody good, it’s women’s work, that,’ was the reply.
“And I thought, to me, that encapsulates the problem.”
One of the solutions, he believes, is to make people believe they can succeed. And to do that, you’ve got to get them while they’re young.
“The kids were being exposed to the enterprise message through practical activities, they were becoming more positive towards themselves, gaining experience, gaining exposure,” says Scott.
“It’s long-term stuff and very few organisations have the longevity or the money to be able to measure the long- term value, but in a taking the temperature kind of way, I do feel that young people are much more optimistic and positive on average in the areas that we work in than they were 10 years ago.”
One of the problems is the age-old issue of keeping the brightest and best in the region. Research carried out for Tedco by Durham University uncovered a strange fact about successful young business people in South Tyneside.
“Of the young people – under 30 – who had started businesses that were more ambitious and more successful, the only common characteristic they had was that they’d spent time outside of South Tyneside,” said Scott.
“They’d either gone to university and come back or they’d been in the forces or they’d worked away. They’d had a significant experience somewhere other than their back door.
“And that seemed to somehow broaden their horizons, open their minds to a whole set of things.”
Although inhibited by the size of the market – he says in an hour’s drive from central London there are 25 million potential customers compared to two-and-a-half million in an hour’s radius of Newcastle – Mr Scott says there is no reason why the region can’t build on its proud heritage and grow more of its own successful businesses.
“This was the region that could produce Armstrong, Swans, Reyrolle, Parsons, Merz, the Stephensons – the list goes on and on – engineers, designers, scientists who broke the mould,” he says.
“I think it’s 90% of ships that were used in the Japan-China War of 1906 were built on the Tyne – that’s both sides.
“We’ve got fantastic heritage and these people were fantastic entrepreneurs as well, they weren’t just engineers and scientists. The region’s got a tremendous history – so if you say ‘what happened,’ I’m sure that we still have the brains, the ambition.
“I don’t know quite what the solution is, but there are fascinating things happening in the region now. There’s about £70m being invested in the renewable technologies up at Blyth and in the universities, Nissan’s activities – the battery plant – then all the process industries stuff down on Teesside, the life sciences stuff in Newcastle and Durham,
“There’s lots of interesting stuff going on and there’s loads of very successful businesses still in the region, but there aren’t enough of them.”
One of the issues has been creating an environment that supports business and supports success.
“When I left university, it was just after the ‘winter of discontent’ and there were folk marching around with placards ‘we demand the right to work’ – on one hand, I had a great deal of sympathy with that because unemployment was massive, inflation was running wild,” said Mr Scott.
“That means that somebody has a duty to employ you and it’s not Russia, so the Government’s not going to employ everybody. And that really falls down to the private sector to pick up that baton and take on the role of employing people.
“In some ways, I think the army of small business people around the country perform a critical function. I believe in the value of the small business sector, I believe in the value of having a local culture that supports business.
“It’s better now than it has been but it’s not perfect. A few years ago, we helped a young woman get some publicity and she got hate mail from the neighbours a few days later saying ‘who do you think you are, you jumped up little so and so’.
“Presumably the neighbours feel fearful of anyone making progress, getting above themselves, getting above their station – and I think it’s exactly those types of attitudes that we need to combat, help people to feel positive about business wherever it is.”