Jobs and growth in Newcastle
Employment in Newcastle has reached its highest level for a decade and is forecast to continue rising. Newcastle City Council Leader, Nick Forbes, talks about Newcastle’s economic success and his ambition to make it the UK’s most business friendly city.
We live in an uncertain world. A few months ago George Osborne was telling us his so called economic plan was getting Britain back on its feet. More recently he was warning of a dangerous cocktail of serious threats from a slowing global economy. Falling oil prices, panic over Chinese growth and interest rate rises in the US have left us wondering if we will ever see stability again.
When I became Leader of the Council in 2011 and was forced to take £40m from the council’s budget and £30m the year after, I, and my Cabinet, decided to place job creation right at the top of our agenda. We could see with government grant haemorrhaging from the North East and punitive reforms to welfare, we needed a different approach to building a strong economy.
Councils such as Newcastle are turning themselves into job creation agencies in all but name, doing what we can to create the right conditions for growth. That is exactly what we have set out to do with an ambitious capital investment programme we will continue to fund despite the challenges. Jobs are the building blocks of a successful economy. They don’t just provide us with goods and services but they give individuals a stake in society.
People in this city know that work is one of the best routes there is to social justice, and that’s why I am delighted to see employment levels in Newcastle at their highest for a decade. There is a lot still to do to ensure no one is left behind as we strive for further growth, but there are signs our city is well placed for the future.
Walking around the city centre, you can’t help but feel a new confidence. The redevelopment of Monument Mall has attracted a range of luxury retailers, Eldon Square has 137 units with 95 per cent occupancy, and 20 new restaurants are set to open in Grey’s Quarter.
The refurbished Central Station with its pedestrian friendly open spaces has attracted £10.8m of private sector investment and gives visitors an impressive welcome to the region. The nearby Stephenson Quarter reached a milestone with the opening of the Crowne Plaza hotel, creating 130 jobs for local people, new office space in The Rocket for 350 workers and car parking. And plans to link the site with the Central Station will open it up to further opportunities.
We are also investing in our infrastructure, including £10m on sites such as Cowgate roundabout and John Dobson Street, investment which of course brings disruption but is essential if we are to seize the opportunity to improve junctions that have slowed journeys for generations of travellers.
I want Newcastle to become the most business friendly city in the UK. We are making great progress but can’t rest on our laurels as there are still too many people out of work. We must stay the course and make Newcastle a city that in future will hold its own against the biggest in Europe.