Building on the past to secure the future

News that 280,000 people are employed in digital industries

and northern-based life science businesses contributing more than £10bn to the UK economy each year, as well as helping to support thousands of highly skilled jobs, reflects the ‘huge’ potential that a Northern Powerhouse could unleash, says Richard Deas, a director with Newcastle niche IT recruiters SearchBI.

I believe that a regional powerhouse has to been seen as a progressive force that’s a harbinger of good times to come for the North delivering significant and long term benefits – but only if it’s properly constructed. The recent Tech Nation 2016 report showed how important the digital economy is to regional employment. This reflects the latent talent and skills that can be harnessed as the engine room powering the region onwards and upwards in the coming years.

North East England’s inclusion within a strongly built and strident Northern Powerhouse will only help to secure this further, aiding the retention of the brightest and ablest in the region and averting the drift away to London and the South East in search of work.

Hand-in-hand with contributing to stabilising the North/South balance of trade, I foresee the creation of an even more dynamic, fluid northern business culture founded upon entrepreneurial-based and mutually beneficial partnerships, where vested interests are put aside in favour of a common good with economic advantages and growth for all to share in.

But will our geographical location hold us back? At times, Newcastle may be perceived by those living beyond its borders as insular, sitting in ‘splendid’ isolation – a distant relation living in the shadow of its mightier M62 corridor cousins. This view is only added to when you consider the proposals for the new high-speed rail services: HS2 AND HS3. This is a big issue. While the superfast travel links that are being talked of between London and Leeds and Manchester will undoubtedly reap rich reward, I do worry about Newcastle’s omission from its place at the decision making table.

Could this see Newcastle and the wider North East shut out in the cold? Personally, I don’t believe so, but it will certainly require a lot of hard work, determination and desire to bring together all the great economies of northern England in collaboration if we are to play our rightful part. After all what’s a hundred miles travel between the Tyne and Aire rivers when you consider that we live and work in a world of entwined, interconnected global economies.

The Northern Powerhouse will force us to put aside our regional differences to come together in a new age of growth and achievement, propelled forward by the blinding white light of technology and digital innovation. But first there are few things that need to be addressed for this to come about:

Travel links: it’s well documented that this hinges on the massive investment into travel, and for Newcastle in particular this is crucial given that we are further removed from the seat of a Northern Powerhouse than any of our co-members. We need to remain a player in the movement and position Newcastle as a dominant force. Otherwise we are in danger of being frozen out or becoming competition rather than an ally. Continued investment in training and access to education to close the regional skills’ gap will see more focus and investment in equipping people with the technology skills to secure our collective future workforce needs. We need to improve training in the region to meet the growing demand – if we can’t fulfil the need, companies will go elsewhere. More tax relief for companies with high numbers of employees to encourage a culture of hiring from local talent rather than outsourcing.

The North East has long – and rightly so – prided itself on its rich industrial heritage and a history hewn from hard work, opportunities realised and an almost unrelenting capacity for exporting excellence. The Northern Powerhouse represents our time, our opportunity, our vision – and right now. It’s the digital age’s equivalent of our forebears’ industrial revolution. Can we afford to miss the boat? I hope not.