Friday, 5 December 2008

North East Economic Forum

I spent the day at the North East Economic Forum, which was a great event and brilliantly organised. There is a real sense of energy and a desire to overcome the recession here, that seems a little missing elsewhere – or is it just that the North East is more resilient? There were a host of speakers – among them high-ranking politicians such as Peter Mandelson, Vince Cable and George Osborne, who all speak well in their own way. Cable as the avuncular uncle, Osborne all industry and effort and Machievellian Mandelson by video link from Downing Street. Mandelson was very much the smiling assassin loving being back in the limelight. Of the other speakers Margaret Fay impressed in particular. She represents One North East, an organisation which does sterling work in difficult times.

The breakout sessions were good in parts and covered:
- Transport: the impossibility of the A1 being improved until it becomes part of the national plan was made abundantly clear. There is a tiny budget for regional road improvement and the A1 duelling will cost more than the annual budget for all the roads in the North East. It is a government decision pure and simple. Anne-Marie Trevelyan (our prospective candidate for Berwick on Tweed) is doing a great job with her “Dual the A1 Campaign”, but Geoff Hoon, Minister for Transport, is the man to decide this issue. And he pointedly ducked the question when it was put to him the night before. The safety, business, and economic case for improving the A1 is beyond dispute: it would also have a good side-effect in that it would bring trade and closer links between South Eastern Scotland and the North East.
- Tourism: Very interesting talks about Hadrian’s Wall, and the need for a tourism conference to try and bring all the different tourism organisations together. It’s a great shame that Hexham and rural Northumberland have such low revenue from tourism compared to other parts of the country – like coastal Northumberland or Cumbria – both of which have double our tourist revenue.
- Climate change / Environment: an interesting discussion and debate on wind farms. The offshore case for them is strong on a multitude of levels, but the inshore case is clearly flawed, particularly in an area like Northumberland / Hexham.
- Also had a good chat with the Journal journalists and the local man from Sky News.