INTEREST rates should be held as they are, despite positivity in the economy, according to the North East Shadow Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

The North East Shadow MPC voted unanimously in favour of keeping the interest rate at 0.5 per cent to allow the economy to grow further and reach pre-recessionary levels. Members were also against any further quantitative easing (QE).

A partnership between The Northern Echo, the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) and Tees Valley-based accountancy firm Waltons Clark Whitehill, the North East Shadow MPC looks at the region’s economy and gives experts from a variety of sectors the opportunity to argue their case for a shift, or hold, in the rate.

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Ahead of Thursday's announcement by the Bank of England, Mark Stephenson, manager of policy and research at the NECC, said: “It seems to me there are a lot of positive stories coming through, but there are a lot of ‘buts’.”

Access to finance and skills are still issues, according to members.

Andrew Sugden, head of external engagement at Northumbria University, said: “It’s a sad indictment of the labour market that we have when we have over 10% unemployment and many companies reporting a skills shortage. We have clearly failed there. I hear it from manufacturing, but it’s in other areas, such as IT.”

Mark Jolley, managing director of Darlington-based independent financial advisers MN Consultancy, agreed this was the case in the financial sector. He said: “We’ve got a massive skills gap.”