By Guy Currey, Director, Invest North East England
March 2021 marked the anniversary of the UK’s first national coronavirus lockdown, and many people reflected on where they were and what they were doing when the news was announced.
I was leading a familiarisation visit, showing a potential investor around key employment sites in the North East. One memory is particularly vivid, as we were travelling to Newcastle Central Station, the company representative was desperately trying to book a flight out of Heathrow back home.
That investor was international software and payments firm, Xplor, and twelve months on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to announce the company had chosen Newcastle as the location for its new UK customer service operations, creating 200 new jobs in the region.
Xplor’s decision to open its new office in North East England is not only a positive sign for our region’s economic recovery, it’s also an example of a growing trend that offers huge opportunities for the North East. And that trend is northshoring.
If you’re new to the term, northshoring is when businesses move all or part of their operations out of expensive parts of the South to more cost effective locations in the North where staff turnover rates tend to be much lower. There are already lots of examples of northshoring projects in our region.
In February 2020, I joined colleagues from North Tyneside Council and North of Tyne Combined Authority in welcoming Europe’s largest domestic alarm provider, Verisure UK Services Limited, to its new North East headquarters at Quorum Park. The company’s investment in the region will create 1,000 new jobs. The project is currently being rolled out much more quickly than initially planned and that’s despite the challenges of Covid-19.
Other recent investments include the BBC, who announced plans to open a new tech hub in Newcastle, reinforcing its intentions to relocate two-thirds of BBC staff outside of London by 2027.
Online grocery retailer, Ocado have also set up home in the North East, moving in to the brand new BEAM in the heart of Sunderland city centre. The firm will operate their national customer service centre from the site, with a 300 strong workforce.
And in the March Budget this year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced more than 1,000 Whitehall officials will relocate to Darlington in Tees Valley as part of Government’s Treasury North project. Following that news, staff from the Department of International Trade will also follow suit and move north to Darlington.
These three projects, along with Xplor, offer an insight into how northshoring is helping to bolster inward investment in North East England, as more and more companies look to access highly skilled, loyal staff, and quality accommodation without paying a huge price tag.
Another inward investment trend has been the growth of North East England’s offshore wind market.
In October 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the first stage of the government’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution, including ambitious targets for the UK’s offshore wind sector.
Government announced an additional £160m will be pumped into the industry to upgrade ports and infrastructure, including here in North East England. It’s expected the new investment from government will initially create around 2,000 construction jobs and support a further 60,000 across the offshore wind sector by 2030.
That commitment from government, and the drive to reach net carbon zero by 2025, has seen huge levels of investment in the sector.
Two companies behind the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, Dogger Bank in the North Sea, announced their plans to build a new multi-million pound Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Base at the Port of Tyne. The new venture by Equinor and SSE Renewables will create more than 200 new jobs in the region.
Fresh off the back of being awarded Freeport status, Tees Valley also announced GE Renewable Energy plans to open a new world-class blade manufacturing facility on Teesside. This multi-million pound investment from one of the sector’s major players reinforces the vital role North East England has in the global offshore wind sector.
Whilst the Freeport and blade manufacturing plant may be based in neighboring Tees Valley, the positive impact of both projects will be felt right across the wider region.
And the same can be said for another major energy project announced in 2020. Britishvolt has selected a site in Blyth to build the UK’s first electric battery gigaplant, creating 3,000 direct jobs and another 5,000 in the wider supply chain.
It’s for these reasons and more that when I reflect on one year on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic I do so with renewed confidence.
North East England has a huge amount to offer investors; from our strengths in growing markets like energy, digital, and health and life sciences to our loyal, skilled workforce and cost competitiveness.
Right now we’re supporting major enquires that, if successful, could result in thousands of new jobs for the North East. Despite what has been an enormously challenging year, I’m predicting a much brighter future for North East England.