OUR region has a long heritage of taking stuff and making into something that can be sold, often around the world, writes Mark Stephenson of the NECC.
The “march of the makers” George Osborne referred to during his budget has been doing double time lately in the North-East – the NECC quarterly economic survey illustrates this.
As a result the North-East is the most energy intensive region in the UK when measured on a per capita basis. This is not something that should cast in the role of the dirty old man of the UK. Rather it should be a source of pride because we are one of the leading manufacturing regions and more than any other region we are a great example of selling our products into foreign markets.
However, because of this we are exposed to the cost of energy, whether that is for transport, electricity or heating and, added to this, thirty years of policy failure in this sphere has led to a problem which is looming large over generators and industry alike.
UK generation capacity is decreasing rapidly even as our economy is growing and the margin of spare capacity has not been this low for decades. Regulation, whether EU or UK derived is hitting energy intensive industries putting them at a competitive disadvantage while price and security of supply issues continue to intertwine, ultimately hitting the bottom line of some of the North-East’s biggest employers.
However, the North-East enjoys an embarrassment of riches in the energy sector from offshore wind to coal, electric vehicles, energy from waste, carbon capture and storage, coal gasification, biomass, biofuels: the list goes on and on.
Our research capability is also hugely impressive as is the close knit network of professional services with a heritage of expertise within this sector. Added to our location, port infrastructure and availability of brown field sites we have all of the ingredients to cater for growth in this sector and all the high skilled jobs it will bring with it.
NECC has communicated this to decision makers many times, this and the fact it mustn’t be taken for granted. Investment will not happen in a policy environment of shifting sands that unnerves investors and their financiers in equal measure.
As our economy continues to recover it is as important as ever that we have the energy to move, heat and power the activity that makes our economy tick. The very real danger is that years of inaction and uncertainty is not only putting off investors and limiting job creation but also risking shortage of supply in the very near future – something that would be damaging at any time let alone in advance of a general election.