A YEAR on from the launch of the Great North Revolution campaign, CBI regional director Sarah Green reflects on its successes so far.
LAST June, CBI launched the Great North Revolution campaign with ncjMedia. The campaign’s aims were to ensure that the North East was recognised as a global leader (defined as in the top three worldwide centres) in a small number of sectors where we have existing strengths, including supply chain, geographic assets and skills.
At the point of launch, the Great North Revolution was aspirational. One year later we have proven success.
If we consider first the area of low-carbon vehicles, the North East was declared by the Labour government as the Low Carbon Economic Area for Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles but titles aside we had not secured any significant major investment in this area.
One year later and we have landed the £200m investment in the Nissan battery plant and secured the production of the Leaf, the first mass-market electric vehicle, safeguarding thousands of jobs and establishing the North East as a major global player in electric vehicles.
Other manufacturers such as Smiths and Avid continue to develop their markets creating a cluster of electric vehicle activity which was celebrated when the global industry leaders descended on Gateshead for the UK Green Vehicle Congress.
Furthermore we are investing in the infrastructure for the future. The £8.5m National Skills Academy training centre, developed by Gateshead College, is currently under construction. The North East has been declared one of three UK locations and the only region to be given Plugged in Places funding which has enabled more than 650 charging points to be installed this year.
If we consider energy, another sector highlighted by the Great North Revolution, Clipper Windpower have announced their intention to manufacture wind turbines on the banks of the Tyne. Around the Clipper development, land has been remediated and levelled, ripe and ready for further investment in this sector, and currently Shepherd Offshore, the developers, are entertaining inward investors of all nationalities interested in the unique combination of skilled workforce, river frontage, proximity to Dogger Bank and available industrial land provided by our redeveloped shipyards.
Narec, the research centre for renewables in Blyth, has been recognised as a national centre of excellence and has secured £30m further funding, strengthening the North East offer. In Teesside the £250m Ensus refinery is now in operation and is currently Europe’s largest wheat bio-refinery – central to the UK’s plans to cut carbon emissions.
Further investments such as MGT have been announced in the region ensuring that once again the North East is central to the new agenda.
In other sectors highlighted by the campaign, such as the creative digital sector, the £1.2m Jeremie Access to Finance funding, now the Finance for Business North East Fund, secured from the European Investment Bank, is supporting the growth of world-leading, high-growth SMEs in areas such as gaming and animation.
It is clear that significant progress has been made within a year. However, we cannot afford to be complacent. Every region and city internationally has set its sights on securing green jobs and therefore the competition is tough. We cannot celebrate our success to date but need to ensure we market our strengths externally and capture the supply chains to these new industries locally.
We also need to support North East businesses to consider potential new market opportunities in these industries. How do we support our SME engineering businesses to understand the supply chain requirements for offshore wind, our professional service organisations to understand the new business models and our offshore maintenance providers to gear up for the new opportunities presented? The answer is not in our existing business support structures and new ways of communicating and engaging industry is required.
We need to improve our international communication in these sectors. If you Google renewable energy or offshore wind power, you will not find one mention of the North East. The question now is how do we exploit the opportunity we have created?
Finally, we must ensure the region is not just a branch of these progressive industries; instead the North East needs to become the hub, capturing not just the manufacturing capacity but utilising our university and industry research to anchor the strategic decision-making in our region.
In the past year, the North East has made a huge leap towards its aspiration of a Great North Revolution and we must congratulate ourselves, but we cannot stop to celebrate as the real work has only just begun.
Page 2: One year in the life of a Great North Revolution