HUGE progress made to close the economic gap between the North-East and the rest of the UK is too big a prize to lose, it was claimed yesterday.

One North East chairman Paul Callaghan was speaking to business leaders at the development agency’s final annual meeting before its closure next March.

Office for National Statistics data shows the economic growth gap between the region and the UK average stabilised from 1999, when One North East was established, up to the beginning of the recession in 2008, a gap which had widened for many years previously. In its 12-year history the agency invested £2.7bn into the North-East economy and achieved a £4.50 return from every £1 invested.

Mr Callaghan said there was still much to be confident about with the North-East’s involvement in new and renewable energy, process industries, the digital sector, manufacturing and continuing investment by firms such as Nissan.

But, he said it has to be set within a context of realism as the region faces up to economic challenges, adding: “The days of the North-East having about a quarter of a billion pounds to exclusively spend on developing its regional economy are gone.”