Q & A with Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle council

nickforbes1Q. During our debate on ‘good’ local economics in the city one person described Newcastle as a ‘big-business dominated economy’. Do you think that big business is giving enough back to the city?

A. We are proud of our big businesses.  They are big employers and make a big contribution to our city.  Many also put an incredible amount back.

One of the transformations of our local economy in recent years has been the growth in smaller businesses, including start-ups and self employed. We’re supporting and nurturing this new entrepreneurial spirit by helping people with business support advice and easy access to register patents in our central library. Newcastle and Northumbria Universities and the quality of life here are both important factors in why more and more people are choosing to locate here.

We also have a proud reputation for corporate social responsibility.  For example, the Sage Foundation has created a model of ‘2+2+2’: donating 2% of employee time each year, 2% of free cash flow and 2 of Sage’s smart technology products for any charity, social enterprise or non-profit organization. This is likely to be a leading approach nationally.

Another exemplar is the Reece Group, which recently took over the iconic Armstrong Works on the Scotswood Road.  Their generosity has helped fund substantial projects in local schools and sports clubs.

Q. During our debate delegates from small business and the community sectors said that they are not represented enough in local decision-making. What more can be done to ensure that all communities are represented in local economic decisions that affect them?

A. Small businesses are the mainstay of the UK economy.  We work hard to promote small business growth – including by providing incubation facilities, including at the Core at Science Central.  And through running the Business and Intellectual Property Centre at the central library.

We also try to engage actively with the business community.  Last quarter we had events and meetings with over 300 companies in the city.  But I recognise that this is a small fraction of the business community and we need to constantly do more to engage.

Q. Do you think that GVA growth is an adequate measure of the Newcastle economy? If not, what else could you measure and what steps are being taken towards that?

A. GVA is the primary measure of an economy’s strength, and is therefore important to monitor. It also enables us to understand the local economy relative to the national picture.  However, regional GVA is difficult to measure and is distorted by the relative intensity of headquarters based in London.

That is why we monitor a wider basket of indicators to assess local economic impact. Indicators are based around delivering our Working City Priorities and Tackling Inequalities, they include:

  • Unemployment rates
  • Number of JSA claimants
  • Skills levels
  • Business numbers
  • Pay inequality

 

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine
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