'It's up to the people save economy in absence of government help'

22/07/2013

It is up to the people of the North East to save the economy in the absence of assistance from central government, a housing debate has concluded

This article was published on 24dash on 22 July 2013.

Isos Housing's ‘Room for a View’ event, held at the Newcastle Gateshead Hilton last week, brought together a panel of experts to debate the state of the regional economy and invited an audience of around 140 of the region’s most influential executives and managers asked questions of the panel.

The aim of the event was to see how Isos and the housing sector can work with their partners across the region to help improve the economy.

There was broad agreement that the Adonis Review of the economy had been helpful in crystallising the major issues, and that a combined authority to unite the power and influence of the region’s seven major local authorities would be a big step forward for economic development.

The panel also acknowledged that the North East could not expect much assistance from central government to invest in its economy – both due to the state of the public finances, and the coalition’s continued dedication to austerity and the slashing of public spending.

The panel featured Ed Twiddy, head of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP); Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council and former head of the HCA; Keith Loraine, chief executive of Isos; Matt Leach, head of housing-focused think tank HACT; and Philip Barnes from Barratt Homes.

The debate was chaired by the BBC's Richard Moss, and the audience also saw a video interview with renowned economist Ian Shepherdson, who sits on the Isos board.

Mr Twiddy spoke about the importance of growing a balanced economy, increasing the size of the private sector, and focusing on the region's strengths.

He said: “We produce traded goods, and that's what the global middle class wants – whether they are in pharmaceuticals, in automotive, in energy extraction and exploitation - those are the things which the global middle class wants, and they are burgeoning in all corners of the globe. That is what they want, and we should be serving their needs.

“By serving their needs, we also serve the needs of our future generations as well.”

Matt Leach, head of think tank HACT, was probably the most downbeat of all the panellists, and spoke of many years of 'hurt' to come as the government continues to cut public spending and reduce the welfare budget further.

He said: “If it's hurting now, it's going to hurt a lot more in the future. It will be a sustained hurt over a long period of time. It's going to affect the ability of organisations like Isos, local councils and other publicly funded partnerships, to do things that we still culturally expect them to do.

“To cap it all, the pain of [the cuts] will fall most heavily on areas like the North East which traditionally have been most reliant on public funds.”

Keith Loraine made a plea for housing to be a key part of the region's economic recovery.

He said the area covered by the LEP currently had a waiting list of some 77,000 families in need of housing, and registered providers like Isos had the potential to do so much more, and hence provide jobs for currently unemployed construction workers.

He said: “I would like to see housing given greater status within the region’s economic strategy, mainly to address the oft quoted assertion that housing should only follow economic growth. We would suggest we can precede and be part of economic growth.”

Pat Ritchie pointed to the work Newcastle City Council is doing to improve the local economy, as a reason to be optimistic that conditions can improve.

She said: “We're planning for the future. Along with Gateshead, we have launched our Local Development Plan, which aims to create the conditions for the creation of 14,000 new jobs up to 2030, 21,000 new homes and significant investment in projects such as business parks surrounding the airport.”

Philip Barnes added: “Let’s get private sector funding and public sector funding working together, not separately.

“There’s not much money out there in the public sector, so let’s spend it where the market will use it, to make £1 into £5 or £10.”

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