Steve Guest is managing director of Wilton based Techconsult UK, which specialises in finding candidates for key roles in science and industry. Here he looks at the rollout of the Northern Powerhouse and its part in building a prosperous future for firms in the region
The Government-led drive to establish a recognisable Northern Powerhouse is a huge step forward for aspirational firms in the region.
But the unstoppable drive for success, growth and innovation has always been deeply embedded in these firms, and we must never lose sight of the work that has been going on for decades building a powerhouse to rival any region.
So we must make sure the high-profile Government activity adds to the hard-won success we already have and supports the belief at Techconsult and so many other firms in the North East that teamwork on a regional scale can provide the loudest voice in a regional debate.
We don’t want political point-scoring – that’s one Government specialty they can keep in Westminster – but we do want to add the Government’s considerable volume to that loud voice, so we need clarity on their plans for the Northern Powerhouse beyond the headlines and good intentions so that we can extend a welcoming hand with confidence.
Driving investment and growth has never been more important here, as the closure of the Redcar steelworks, the downturn in oil and gas and the crisis that has caused in the supply chain demonstrates all too clearly the risks international trading can bring to our home-grown industries.
This is one key area the Government can help with. Every North East firm with ambition will want to export and import, and a properly-established and well-run Powerhouse can act as both promoter and protector. We don’t need babysitting, but we would welcome the occasional bit of experienced parenting.
I’m yet to see any direct evidence of what the Northern Powerhouse has achieved here in the North East, so as valued friends of the region, I would suggest there are key areas for the Government, Powerhouse Minister James Wharton and his team to look at as priorities, such as:
How will you make sure the North East will not lose out to bigger centres of influence such as Manchester and the North West? There’s been a lot of noise made about the potential of so-called HS3 from Leeds to Manchester but it’s absolutely crucial that investment moves out of these cities to ensure that the North East and other areas can also benefit.
We already boast some excellent transport links with Port of Tyne, Newcastle Airport, Tees Port and Port of Sunderland, however, working in the recruitment sector placing senior level roles in science and industry, we need to ensure that we get the right talent into potential growth areas such as biotechnology and science, so it’s vital that the area is seen as a really attractive place to come to live and work.
Transport infrastructure certainly plays an important role in this but the Government spotlight needs to focus on investment in skills to support key growth sectors, so that we’re less reliant on drawing upon external expertise and that more opportunities are available to people here in the region.
A focus on skills is also vital as the industrial landscape changes. The Government needs to ensure we are geared up to take advantage of opportunities in areas such as manufacturing, automotive and science. There are some very innovative businesses here in the North East developing technologies which should be celebrated, but we need to make sure that there is a pipeline of people trained and ready to grow our reputation in the most cutting-edge sectors.
Finally, we have always had outstanding leaders in the North East, who have been able to turn good companies into great ones and collectively turn a great region into a global powerhouse. So if we are to fully embrace the potential in front of us, we need to choose our next leader with great care.
That means recognising that having an elected mayor in place is essential to the Government’s devolution deal and is a pre-requisite for their continued and enthusiastic support.
It needs to be someone with the personality to get us noticed and really bang the drum for the North East, but who has a real understanding of the industry landscape and what needs to be done to drive growth in key sectors. There aren’t many people who tick all those boxes, but they are out there, already making a huge impression on business owners and their workers and eager to step out on an international stage.
This region has provided growth and inspired innovation in the past, the time is now right to remind our trading partners – and the Government – how much more our home-grown powerhouse still has to offer.