A joined-up approach needed on marketing our strengths
LAST week I raised the question about this region’s ability to compete on a global and European scale, and used my visit to Croatia to highlight that country’s ability as an emerging competitor.
Following that, a couple of events have served to emphasise the North East’s lack of resource to market itself – something which I have raised on several occasions in this column.
The job of marketing our business wares on international markets is very much focused through UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
Today this is done on a company and sectoral basis rather than a regional basis.
I can understand the merit of this in relation to the use of financial resources in times of austerity and I do think that UKTI has and does play an important role – but with some restrictions.
I experienced the performance of UKTI prior to my trip to Croatia when I asked for some help in understanding its economy and the exporting of my services. Within 48 hours of the initial inquiry I had a meeting in Newcastle where the exporting service and resources available were explained clearly and succinctly. I was also introduced to a helpful representative in the British Embassy in Zagreb.
There is no doubt that UKTI does great work, as witnessed by Sean Tompkins, chief executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who last year joined David Cameron and party on a trade mission to Brazil. The feedback was very positive.
My concern is that in being structured to address sectoral inquiries, UKTI does nothing to help geographic regions. This was reinforced the other day when I learned that Greater Manchester had established a strong marketing campaign for its region.
I am not an advocate of the copycat principle but as the region with the only net contribution to the economy through our exporting, then marketing the North East and its strengths would seem to be extremely important.
I do not wish to become an old curmudgeon by referring to the past as a beacon but the Northern Development Company, under John Bridge, was highly successful in the marketing of the region and attracting much-needed inward investment.
This was a public/private partnership among local councils and the private sector.
It was in fact the basis on which the regional development agencies (RDAs) were formed, hence the need to merge its activities into One North East (ONE). Regrettably, governments extended the RDA’s activities and it needed to do many other things but still dealt with marketing the region effectively. On the closure of ONE we lost that ability.
Recently I suggested that the economic development offices of each of the seven councils that make up the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, which officially drives economic growth in the region, should join to provide a much stronger and cohesive service than the seven disparate council offices can ever hope to do.
I know that they already communicate but such an approach would be much more effective.
They could pick up the mantle more strongly than is done at present and work with the NE LEP to market the region. Indeed, there may be merit in extending this to the five councils on Tees Valley to make for much greater impact and effectiveness.
The report of the North East Economic Review being led by Lord Adonis, is due to make its announcement in mid-February.
This will spell out the five most important economic targets we need to aim for to achieve much-needed economic growth.
My belief is that linked to this we need to have a strong regional marketing arm to attract inward investment, not just for companies wishing to locate to the region but also for those taking decisions on funding that is the lifeblood of growth in the North East.
It is vitally important that we use our public and private sector skills and know-how when it comes to marketing.
As a region, we need to get out there and sell ourselves!