Town Hall in the North East: July 2018

On 9 and 10 July, Andy Haldane, our Chief Economist, visited the North East region of England. During his visit Andy met with a diverse range of people and organisations from schools and colleges to companies and charities.

I visited the North East for the latest of my Townhall visits on 9-10 July. Part of this visit was organised in conjunction with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and involved spending a day with the orthodox Jewish community in Gateshead.

I saw an incredible range of people and organisations during my visit – from schools and colleges to companies and charities: everything from a manufacturer of robot lawnmowers to an independent cinema. Some of the photos and cartoons from the trip are attached to give you a flavour. Let me pick out one or two of the highlights.

First, my visit to the Jewish community in Gateshead was an education on a number of levels. This is one of the largest Jewish communities in the UK and a rapidly growing and developing one. They already run their own schools and colleges, their own housing programme and shops and even their own emergency response programme. They have an ambitious programme of future developments, including around affordable housing.

One of the key themes of the visit was education. I visited and spoke to teachers and pupils at a local community school, visited a local special needs school and spent time at the Yeshiva (college) talking to students and faculty about their educational programme.

I had not appreciated what a global centre Gateshead was for study of the Jewish faith, with students gathering from all around the world. I was particularly impressed by the “partnering” approach to learning among the students, with learning through discussion among pairs of students. In the schools, I spoke about the Bank’s own educational programme, in the area of economic and financial literacy.

I visited a number of the new projects underway in the community, including a social housing programme and new synagogue and had roundtable discussions with local community leaders on the history of the area, the economic issues they were facing and the programme of community support programmes they have in place. This was deeply insightful. I am very grateful to everyone who gave their time and views so openly.

A second theme of the visit, from the business perspective, was around recruitment concerns. Surveys suggest these pressures have been mounting through this year, with particular tightness being felt in some sectors. That impression has been reinforced in a number of my recent regional visits, including to the North East.

I visited a number of companies who were either in, or were part of the supply chain, of advanced manufacturing businesses. This is a significant sector in the North East. And it is a sector where skills shortages are particularly apparent, not only in the North East.

Our Agents have been telling us about the difficulties companies face in finding specialist engineers and other skilled personnel for some time now. But there is a sense that these recruitment difficulties are now becoming more broad-based.

It’s not all bad news. Faced with these challenges I heard about how companies are increasing their investment in apprenticeship programmes, forging closer alliances with universities, and exploring opportunities for automation which could have a really positive impact on productivity.

Another way companies were responding to these staff and skills shortages was through higher pay, as elsewhere around the country. A number of companies that I visited spoke about having had to up their settlements, comparing this year with last, something also borne out in the surveys carried out by our Agents.

My final visit of the trip was to the Jam Jar Cinema in Whitley Bay, which kindly hosted a roundtable discussion with a selection of local charities and voluntary organisations. I had spoken to a number of these charities 18 months earlier in Redcar – food banks and charities dealing with people distant from the labour market, homeless or with mental health problems.

I would like to say I noticed an improvement in sentiment among the charities – for example, a fall in numbers visiting food banks given the improving job situation over the past few years. Alas, that was not the message I received with numbers still increasing and with other charities also reporting a steady demand for their services. Times clearly remain incredibly tough for many people, with modest levels of pay, insecure employment and inactivity still a problem despite the significant improvement in the jobs market.

More optimistic was the story behind our hosts, the Jam Jar Cinema itself. We regularly hear tales of the death of the high street. And there is little question these are incredibly tough times for many retailers. When I visited as a child, Whitley Bay would have been home to five cinemas. All of them had been lost.

Until recently. Five years ago, Dan Ellis set up a new independent cinema in Whitley Bay, fittingly on the site of an old Job Centre. Through a lot of determination and perseverance, initially through volunteer staff, the cinema has thrived. It now employs over ten people and has plans to expand from one screen to three. Local people have been more than happy to support a local business run by an inspirational local entrepreneur on their high street.

I am grateful to Shlomi Isaacson from the Jewish Community Council of Gateshead, Philip Rosenberg from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Dan Ellis and to the Bank’s Agents in the North East, Mauricio Armellini and Andrew Hebden, for making this such a memorable visit.

My next Townhall is in London in September.

 
This page was last updated 24 July 2018
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