Putting people at the heart of the economy will spark a successful future for County Durham, according to the co-founder of the UK’s first app-based bank.

Edward Twiddy co-founded Durham City-based Atom Bank in 2014 and the savings, mortgages and business loans company now employs over 400 people.

With a background at HM Treasury and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the Northern Powerhouse Investment Champion is a well-respected, high profile advisor on industry, education and the environment.

Edward is urging businesses of all shapes and sizes to get involved with ‘our big econ-versation’ to help shape the county’s Inclusive Economic Strategy.

Durham County Council is undertaking a three-month consultation and is inviting over half a million business people and residents across the county to give their views on the issues which matter to them most.

Covering everything from jobs, wages, education and climate change to health, housing, transport and levelling up, the strategy will become a comprehensive, inclusive plan for County Durham. This will help the county to achieve its ambitious growth and secure further investment and support from regional and national, private and public sector organisations.

County Durham is already a major economic force in the North East, with 533,100 residents, supporting 174,000 jobs in 14,565 businesses. It contributes £9 billion to the regional economy each year. With a rich and vibrant cultural scene, Durham has been longlisted for the title of UK City of Culture 2025.

Edward said: “Atom Bank is a business that could have been based anywhere but the reason that it is based in Durham is because of the people.

“We set up Atom Bank with the backing of 20 Angel Investors, the overwhelming majority of whom are based in the North East. Their support confirmed the age old adage that for good ideas, there’s always private investment. And that is as much the case in the North East as it is elsewhere, so long as we keep creating places where people and ideas can be brought together and conversations and innovation are able to happen.

“When Atom was setting down its roots we made a commitment to putting the mind and the management of the business in the North East, but beyond that we had choices to make about our specific location. We knew we needed to be well connected to London for weekly/twice weekly meetings with the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority in order to secure our banking licence, but we also needed to tap into expertise that was based in Edinburgh and Leeds. In particular, we had an important contingent of our team who were travelling daily or weekly from North and West Yorkshire. We also wanted to be able to tap into the pools of talent across the region as we grew the bank. This made County Durham and ultimately Durham City the right choice for us.

“Looking ahead, the availability of the right skills and the resilience and quality of connectivity – physical and digital – are our biggest issues and will continue to be. Some of this is still below par in the North East and it’s a basic of levelling up.

“The other big issue is how we transition to working and living zero carbon and even being carbon positive as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Events in Ukraine only add to the rationale for getting our reliance on fossil fuels down as low as we can as quickly as we can – and the region has a great opportunity to lead on this.

“It’s all about people. We have significantly higher salaries than average, we are a good employer and have a four day working week. We need skilled, engaged people who can communicate, technically talented people who have the desire to learn, are ambitious and sensitive.

“I’m absolutely not saying that it is easy to bring these issues together. That requires simple and high quality governance and government that makes sense of planning, transport, education, energy and all the wider public services that enable people to thrive and places to function. It also clearly requires us to cherish our cultural, social and environmental inheritance whilst challenging ourselves to pass something on which is not just better but immeasurably better than we were gifted.

“For all that the needs of business and shareholders are sometimes reduced to very short term outputs and simple numbers, in fact most businesses are highly durable and have horizons that go well into the next decade and beyond. They clearly need to be engaged in a conversation about an economic strategy because they will be reliant upon the investments that are made and will be contributing to the growth and also the challenges that we are going to face together. Atom will be participating in full with the council’s Inclusive Economic Strategy consultation and I’m sure we’ll see many other familiar and new faces also getting involved to help shape the future success of County Durham.”

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Cabinet member for economy and partnerships at Durham County Council, said: “Our economy provides opportunities and affects everyone living and working in our county so they should have their say on what our economy looks like in the future.

“By taking part in our survey and consultation events, businesses will help us to attract and secure the right investment and support we need.

“I urge businesses to get involved to help us create a new and ambitious Inclusive Economic Strategy that will shape our economy to be the very best it can be.“

The deadline is 5pm on Friday 22 April. A first draft of the Inclusive Economic Strategy will be produced in summer 2022, and following a formal consultation process, the final document is expected to be launched in autumn 2022.