Northern business leaders outline their wish list for industrial strategy

The latest Policy North roundtable of business leaders met in Newcastle this month to discuss what they want for the North East from the Government’s industrial strategy.

Margot James MP, the Government’s parliamentary under secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy joined a panel at Hoults Yard, in Newcastle , to get their ideas on how they want the industrial strategy to work for the North East.

Ms James, who represents Stourbridge in the Midlands, said the North East is “pre-eminent” in the Government’s decision to come up with an industrial strategy.

She said: “The North East has a very successful and proud history, but it’s also demonstrating a huge potential in the more advanced, forward thinking industries and sectors, like advanced manufacturing and marine technology.”

Ms James said Westminster needs to respond to the opportunities the North East has, to help the region realise its potential, and close the north-south productivity gap.

The consultation closes at the end of April, and Ms James plans on making more trips to the North East before then.

Policy North Panellists included offshore industry pioneer Dr Tony Trapp, Virgin Money director of public affairs Emily Cox, bestselling popular science author and Conservative peer Matt Ridley, Hexham MP Guy Opperman and Gradvert recruitment founder Michaela Reaney.

The Government is consulting on its industrial strategy, which aims to address skills and productivity gaps, and improve regional living standards in the UK, where the South East heavily outperforms the North East.

Each of the experts were asked how they would shape the strategy to boost the region.

Ideas included improved east to west rail links, which would better connect Newcastle to the likes of Manchester and Liverpool. Tax breaks for small and medium businesses was another suggestion, along with creating more “tech-colleges” so young people who are not academically inclined can learn valuable skills from a younger age.

Newcastle technology entrepreneur David Harrison reaffirmed his call to create free ports in the region, where manufacturers can import or export without facing big tariffs. The UK is not currently allowed any, due to EU rules, but Britain is leaving the bloc. The free ports idea has been welcomed by Port of Blyth chief executive, Martin Lawlor.

Others called for more investment in newer, small to medium businesses, so they can kick on and grow.

Mr Opperman praised the ‘pro-active focus’ of business leaders as the North East - Britain’s only region with a positive balance of trade - tries to make the most of potential opportunities created by the industrial strategy and leaving the EU.