WE’RE only seconds into our chat, but Iain Wright has already got his point across.

The message is simple.

“What I tried to do as an MP was champion industry and champion the North-East, particularly in economic development and regeneration”, he said.

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“I really want to champion this great, positive and growing industrial sector that we have in our area.”

Mr Wright is now chief executive of the Wilton-based North-East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic), having stood down as Hartlepool MP prior to the General Election.

His time in politics included a stint as chairman of the Business Select Committee, wherein he led a campaign to improve working conditions at Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct and oversaw an investigation into Sir Philip Green and the sale of BHS.

However, his focus is now upon the petrochemical industry and he says he is relishing the prospect of representing member firms and the region’s process sector, while identifying areas for fresh growth.

He said: “I know Nepic from the work I had done as a local MP and have always been impressed by what they have done.

“In many respects, I think we hide our achievements under a bushel, but this sector is a tremendous driver of economic prosperity in our area.

“In terms of employment, it employs 190,000 people.

“It generates £26bn a year for our area, so it is generating not just chemicals and farming products but £3m every hour for our area. That is a tremendous achievement.

“This is a great area with a massive economic footprint.

“I’m not interested in an obsolete or declining industrial sector, I think this is going to be the basis of our future economic prosperity.

“I think we are at the start of huge opportunities when it comes to the chemical and process industries and further down the stream in respect of pharmaceuticals.

“We have always been known in terms of our industrial strength and I think in the 21st Century we will continue to be so, largely based on the process industries.”

He’s got big boots to fill.

He has replaced Dr Stan Higgins at Nepic, who was in post for in excess of a decade wherein he says he helped secure investments worth more than £4bn and 5,000 jobs in the region.

But Mr Wright, who himself was Labour MP for Hartlepool for more than a decade, is no stranger to developmental organisations.

Time spent at One NorthEast prior to being elected in the Commons is testament to that, and he’s already got an understanding of the petrochemical sector, highlighting recent investments by operators Sabic and Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies.

The former has modified its flagship Cracker plant, also at Wilton, near Redcar, to take US ethane gas as a manufacturing material.

Bosses say the move means the Cracker, which makes goods for food packaging, has already provided the business with fresh impetus and proves it is “here to stay for another generation”.

Fujifilm, meanwhile, has taken 15,000sq ft of space at the Wilton Centre after bosses revealed £7m plans to extend development work at a site close to its existing base in Billingham, near Stockton.

“Some of the investments recently, from Fujifilm, and Sabic in terms of the Cracker, herald a really exciting time in the process industry on Teesside and in the wider North- East”, said Mr Wright.

“Sabic is a game-changer in many respects; it sends out a very powerful message.

“When there is huge uncertainty when it comes to Brexit and what the formation of the Government will look like, that huge investment sends out a real confidence call.

“It gives the message that if you’re thinking about investing in the UK, it is safe to do so from a finance and business point of view.

“I think because of that vote of confidence it will then attract further investment in.

“Knowing the industry to some extent, but actually having a steep learning curve, and certainly being no chemical engineer, is that everything is very reliant on everything else.

“One companies’ waste will be another’s feedstock; that supply chain is more integrated than perhaps other sectors.

“If Sabic is investing in the North-East, others might then think ‘we might be interested in a bit of that as well.’ “Success breeds success and I’m going to champion the North-East and the region’s process cluster.”

There’s that word again.

Talk can be one thing, but Mr Wright is adamant it is being backed up by tangible action.

As we sit in the Materials Processing Institute, near South Bank, Middlesbrough, he talks with real alacrity, as well as some pragmatism, about improving further the North-East’s image and its prowess in the petrochemical sector.

There’s already a number of companies operating at Wilton and at nearby bases across Teesside, such as Seal Sands, near Billingham, too, but to stand still, says Mr Wright, would be to fall behind.

You would expect a former MP to talk well, with years of interviews to the media polishing his delivery.

But, as he speaks, his drive becomes obvious as does his eagerness to make a real difference.

He talks about being “greedy” for success and wanting to ensure industry has an impact on the local economy and job sector.

Highlighting a company’s decision upon where to base a new plant, he uses the Netherlands and Germany as examples to expand his point, saying businesses must be given every incentive to come to the North-East.

“When I stood down as an MP, I wanted to do something with industry and the economy and about making sure you can push economic development”, he said.

“You can solve a huge range of social problems if you have got decent jobs in the area and funding for good public services.

“That’s why I want to talk up our strengths and potential, saying if you are a company thinking about investing across Europe (think about coming here),” he said.

“It is a case of working with the companies, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Industries Association and with Government to say ‘actually the best place to invest is the North-East’.

“As someone who is homegrown here, I want the benefits of industry to benefit the region.

“I’m greedy; it’s not just for the North-East, it’s for the UK.

“If you’re thinking in a global stage about siting something in Europe, it has got to be a measure of our success that those investment opportunities and potential has companies saying ‘if I site anything, I’ll site it in the North-East because I know I’ve got the skills, the innovation, the capability, the supply chain and infrastructure there and that I can make money from being based in the North-East.’ ”

Intrinsically linked to such an endeavour, says Mr Wright, who was formerly a Minister for Schools and Apprenticeships, is the skills agenda and the supply chain.

Gone are the days of the employment behemoth ICI, but sadly, he says, the lingering perception that we don’t make anything in the region hasn’t.

Highlighting the need to get into schools and open pupils’ eyes to the potential riches that science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) can deliver in the workplace, he also pointed to the necessity of creating a fertile supply chain that can feed off the larger operators and create jobs and economic value at the same time.

He said: “It is skills, it is scale-up and it is supply chain.

“I want this to be the go-to place for any investment.

“What firms will be looking at are things like, ‘is there a market? Can we sell our product?

Can we also make our product there too? Is the skills set there?

“We have to make sure that pipeline of talent is there, which means linking in with schools and making sure schools, colleges and business are working together.

“It is more important than ever before to join the dots to say to schools, ‘this is fantastic stuff and a chance to have a good, well-rewarded career here on the doorstep in a pretty exciting sector.’ “When you have got these big, prime companies, you can see it in other sectors, in the links of Nissan and Hitachi, the supply chain congregates and clusters around it in a really positive way.

‘If I want to supply to Sabic, I maybe need to think of having a site in operation at Wilton or in the North-East, so it is pushing that as much as possible.

“You have got to have a really integrated supply chain and make sure you join the dots and that companies know about the opportunities; that is so important.

“It is also important that companies in the supply chain can grow and be aware of the opportunities, whether domestically or overseas through exports.”

His outlook is one of progression and he speaks with confidence about his plans to build relationships with business.

But perhaps that should come as no surprise.

During his time in politics, of course, he was chairman of the Business Select Committee, and is probably best remembered for a campaign to improve working conditions at Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, amid criticism of the firm’s zerohour contract use and a socalled six-strikes-and-you’reout policy.

He also oversaw an investigation into Sir Philip Green and the sale of BHS, which eventually led to the businessman making a £363m payment into the company’s empty pension pot.

Mr Ashley has since appointed a worker representative to attend board meetings in an attempt to quell the unrest and spoken about changing the company’s culture.

Yet this situation was clouded by claims that ministers, including Redcar MP Anna Turley, were recorded during a visit to Sports Direct’s Derbyshire warehouse and Mr Wright says he feels Mr Ashley missed an opportunity.

He said: “I’m very proud of the work we did on the Select Committee.

“In many respects, we changed things for the better and exposed matters.

“I think it will have a wider impact on the manner of corporate governance, maybe in terms of the way workers’ rights are improved.

“We always thought the Sports Direct hearing was going to be high-profile due to some of the stories that were coming out about the conditions and what people had to put up with.

“I think both BHS and Sports Direct can be summed up in one word; disconnect.

“If there is a disconnect between what’s happening on the warehouse floor and the boardroom and the yacht and the shops, then you see problems.

“Certainly with BHS, people saw ‘do you know what, he’s just bought his third yacht and there are pensioners who won’t have a large pension who will lose out as a result of BHS going under, and tens of thousands of people will be losing their jobs as well.’ “I think we changed things, I think we’ve done something there.

“In business your reputation matters, it is a big risk if your reputation is knocked.

“I think it’s wise for businesses to think about that wider environment to recognise they are not operating in a vacuum and are working in a society.

“I think Parliament worked well through the Select Committee in that we challenged some of the assumptions.

“My job as chairman was to say I want to champion great success and entrepreneurialism but I will also expose where business is not working for the interest of society.

“With Mike Ashley I think there was the opportunity to really transform his image.

“I’m disappointed that he felt suspicious; I think he was suspicious of our motives.

“It wasn’t our job to manage or govern Sports Direct, that’s not what we were doing.

“I think we could have achieved a lot more.”

As he speaks, it is apparent that his time on the committee strengthened a long-held resolve to ensure businesses are looking after staff, which he says he will continue to encourage while at Nepic.

He said: “If you are pro-worker, you are pro-business too.

“Good committed staff feeling that they are valued and invested in and well remunerated means you can drive up productivity.

“If you’ve got the attitude of ‘let’s squeeze workers’ rights and conditions’ then you do not get the best out of people.

“The chemicals industry is a good example.

“They invest in their staff and training and they pay them relatively well; that is how you can have a good productive sector.

There will always be good news and bad news.

“You have got a really dynamic global economy and fragile, in many respects, European and British economy, so there will be good days and bad days.

“I want to come to an optimistic industry that’s full of potential and I think with Nepic I’ve done that.

“I don’t want in the next chapter of my career to go to a declining sector.

“I see the chemicals and process industry here in the North-East as being on the up and me trying to use the skills I have to improve it.”

If he does, there’ll surely only be one way to describe his achievements.

Champion.