I attended a very interesting session on Devolution for the North East: What it means for business in Durham. It was held at the Gala theatre and started at eight o’clock in the morning. The bacon sandwich made up for the early train I had to catch.
Now, I am not allowed to be political and I try hard to stay on the right side of the line yet as Simon Henig, the Leader of Durham County Council reiterated at the event, I’m not sure that devolution has that much to do with politics. It is more about the opportunity to grow the economy.
I have a huge interest in playing an active part in the region. My chairmanship of the regional ICT groups and my involvement in Dynamo are, hopefully, testament to that. I see devolution as chance for us to be more involved in our own destiny, to shape our own future and have a greater say in the running of our own region. We need to put ourselves on the front foot.
Now this is where I might stray into politics. The devolution question is similar to me as the European question. You are better to be in these things and help shape them than to be outside throwing rocks. So, as a bare minimum my view is that we should be part of what is going on. Ideally we should be helping to shape its future.
The North East has some good things going for it. It has one of the fastest growth rates (Gross Value Added) in the country. That’s good. We have a long culture of making, trading and innovating yet we need to raise our ambition, aspiration and attainment levels if we are to compete more effectively in the global market. It also has other things that are not so great. In the grand scheme of things our economy is still too small and there are too few private sector jobs. Apparently we have an underperforming education systems leading to skill shortages and low skill levels
So the devolution agenda is about the opportunities for Durham and the region. It encourages a growth led approach, bringing inward investment and enhancing our existing infrastructure. We are talking innovation, smart specialisation and wider, cross sector collaboration. The question is ‘how do we embrace these opportunities and promote Durham and the North East as a great location to invest in?’
It was an interesting and useful session. Two big things that I am involved in got a mention: The talent pipeline – getting children involved in manufacturing (apprentices, women into ICT etc.) and the roll out of effective broadband especially for rural businesses. I am glad I went.