THE Bishop of Durham has praised the North-East and its innovation, but called for more support for skills and the region’s construction industry.

The Right Reverend Justin Welby used his maiden speech to the House of Lords today to call for more to be done to boost business confidence in the region.

And he also praised The Northern Echo’s campaign to find 1,000 apprenticeships and internships over the next year.

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Bishop Welby said the region had, over the centuries, been one of the centres of economic life in the country.

He added: "If it has one significant problem today it is that people begin too many sentences with, ‘the trouble with the North-East’, when, in fact, it is not a problem to be solved, but one of the great assets of the country.”

The Bishop cited the growth of the Nissan plant on Wearside, Hitachi’s decision to build its train assembly plant in Newton Aycliffe and the return of steelmaking to Teesside as evidence of the North-East’s continuing innovation against a "grim economic background".

However, he called for action to encourage companies to invest their available funds, saying: "It is being hoarded not because it is needed imminently to repay debt, but out of lack of confidence.

"Both the Gracious Speech and the Budget Red Book emphasise the importance of exports and investment, but the major constraints in the North-East are not imagination or determination to achieve those ends, but confidence and skills.

"Already with even the very marginal recovery in export-led manufacturing of the last two years, skill shortages are emerging in engineering.

"Skills are taught not in classrooms alone, but by the motivation of job observation and work experience combined with technical teaching and vocational learning.”

The Bishop described it as being a privilege to be patron of The Northern Echo’s Foundation For Jobs campaign.

He also called for further investment in the construction industry, which suffered a 14 per cent fall in output in January alone, and highlighted the proposed imposition of VAT on the renovation of listed buildings.

He told peers: "Here, and in areas of the public service, there are what President Obama calls ‘shovel ready projects’, which could be brought rapidly into reality if a certain amount of money were allocated to projects where contracts could be started within six months.

"Cranes build confidence as well as buildings."

Referring to the recent Queen’s Speech, the Bishop concluded: "The Gracious Speech focuses much on the need for renewed growth and vitality in our economy.

"They will not come through exhortation alone, but must come through action and leadership".