Pathway out of the pandemic - Northumberland's 8,000-job economic recovery plan
Northumberland has an ambitious plan to drive economic growth, supporting the recovery from Covid-19, through an investment package delivering 8,000 jobs.
A comprehensive report and discussion on the planned direction of travel for the economy and how it will ensure all communities benefit took place at the Monday, January 11, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s corporate services committee.
Officers from the authority’s policy team provided a detailed overview of the five key areas which make up the proposals for recovery and renewal.
Invest in the transition to a new economy
This focuses on existing economic strengths which also have growth potential – clean energy and green growth; manufacturing; and life sciences and pharmaceuticals.
Much of this is focused on Energy Central in the Blyth estuary area – where BritishVolt has announced plans for a gigaplant to produce batteries for electric vehicles on the former Blyth Power Station site – but there are also plans for a £15million investment at Ashington’s Ashwood Business Park to construct high-quality industrial space to support growth of the advanced manufacturing cluster as well as developing Berwick Ramparts Business Park and Fairmoor Business Park in Morpeth, which are both Enterprise Zones.
Invest in our places, culture and tourism
This is crucial, as it is a key sector in Northumberland’s economy, but one that has been hit harder by Covid-19, which in turn means rural and coastal areas have been hit harder, alongside more deprived communities.
It also covers the regeneration of town centres and rural growth in areas such as agri-tech and forestry.
Proposed investments include the long-awaited Northumberland Line rail link between south-east Northumberland and Newcastle, a £19million programme at Hadrian’s Wall, a £10million Supercharged Rural Scale Up scheme to provide bespoke support to countryside firms which are looking to grow, and a £20million project to establish a Rural Design Centre in partnership with the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise.
Invest in transport and digital connectivity
This too covers the Northumberland Line, as well as other key strategic transport upgrades such as the dualling of the A1, the Blyth relief road, increasing capacity at the A19 Moor Farm roundabout, and a walking and cycling investment package.
A Freeport around the Port of Blyth would play a role in supporting a number of other ambitions, while perhaps the key factor in rural areas is digital infrastructure – addressing the residual gaps in 4G through a Borderlands programme, extending delivery of the existing £12million Local Full Fibre programme, and working with the North of Tyne Combined Authority on 5G investment.
Invest in our people, jobs, skills and livelihoods
The county will not fully benefit from green growth unless it can provide the workforce to power it, with a £15million ‘sectoral change programme’ planned to reach 6,000 people, focusing on transitioning to emerging green jobs.
Maximising apprenticeships, using the devolved adult education budget to ensure provision can more than ever before reflect what businesses need, and £10million per year over a decade for an Education Challenge, are other goals.
Invest in a green recovery
The council has declared a climate emergency and has pledged to halve the council’s carbon footprint by 2025 and to work with others to make the county carbon-neutral by 2030.
Therefore, investments in environmental improvements are a core part of the economic recovery plan.
Projects at various stages of development so far include low-carbon heat networks using flooded mine water in Blyth and biomass in Cramlington; the creation of the Great Northumberland Forest; renewable energy schemes, for example, a potential hydro-electric scheme in the Tyne Valley; expanding the electric vehicle charging point network; and making homes more energy-efficient, reducing fuel bills as well as carbon emissions.
Cllr Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member responsible for economic development, said: “We are in relatively positive shape as a county, there’s a lot going on at the national level that really means we are in a strong position to come out of this.
“Levelling up is one of those buzzwords, a bit like Northern Powerhouse, but nonetheless we are at the centre of it and we should grab every penny we can. Regardless of political orientation, we’ve all got to pull together and grab every penny while we can.
“It’s going to be challenging, it’s not going to be at all straightforward, but I think there’s plenty of places across the country that would look at our position with a significant degree of envy.”
Earlier in the meeting, Philip Hunter, the council’s director of policy, discussed the economic impact of the pandemic so far, underlining that it’s a ‘challenging and uncertain picture nationally and I suspect it will be a while yet before we have more settled economic trends’.
The most recent jobs figures show that the number of Northumberland residents claiming unemployment benefits increased by 62% from March to October 2020.
This meant that just under 6% of the county’s population aged 16-64 were claiming unemployment benefits in October, with this proportion remaining lower than that in England, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and North of Tyne Combined Authority regions.
Mr Hunter said: “I know that won’t bring much comfort to people and businesses that have been impacted, but I just highlight that point to show we are not a significant outlier in Northumberland.”
Councillors were told that there were 7,482 job postings in Northumberland for the period April to November 2020, which was only 3% less than the same period in 2019. In October 2020, the unemployment to vacancy ratio was 8.5, compared to 6.7 the previous October.
The meeting also heard from Alan Welby, the director of innovation at the North East LEP, and Henry Kippen, director of economic growth for the North of Tyne Combined Authority.