A region by region look at working in HR in the UK. This month we investigate North East. Edited by Ross Wigham, e-mail: [email protected]
Reality check working wonders for North East
Once famed for shipbuilding and coal mining the North-East has been forced to confront harsh economic realities and transform itself from a heartland of old industry.
Nothing represents this resurgence more than the new Quayside in Newcastle with the ‘blinking eye’ Millennium Bridge and the world renowned Baltic Art Gallery as its centrepiece.
The region, comprising County Durham, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and the Tees Valley, now has a strong reputation for innovation and industrial change.
Data for the three months to January 2004 shows the employment rate at 69.6 per cent, up by 2.2 per cent for the same period in 2003.
In real terms, there are around 1.09 million people in work and 73,000 unemployed. However, unemployment is still a problem for the North East, which, despite falling slightly to 6.3 per cent, is still above the national average of 4.8 per cent.
The area has a population of around 2.51 million people and although it has traditionally suffered from large outward migration that trend was reversed for the first time last year.
Despite these giant strides the area still suffers from some deprivation and poor training. However, even in decline, manufacturing remains a major part of the economy. Sunderland is home to the giant Nissan factory – the company’s most productive plant globally – and there is a strong service economy, with the area popular for call centre and customer service operations because of low costs and staff availability.
A campaign for autonomous regional government has been under way for several years, but the local economy is currently guided by a regional development agency – One North East. This body has around 300 staff and a budget of £200m and is tasked with improving economic and business efficiency, generating inward investment and generally helping the area realise its potential.
It has helped push industrial change and innovation by investing in centres of excellence around digital technology, life sciences, nanotechnology, renewable energy and the processing industries.
The public sector is also a major employer in the region with the Department for Work and Pensions, three major hospitals, several large councils and a booming higher education scene.
Peter Bower moved to the region from the Midlands and now works as the head of organisational development at Newcastle City Council, which employs more than 15,000 staff.
“There’s a good quality of life and the area has many attractions in terms of retail, regeneration and culture. Transport is also good,” he says.
In HR terms, recruiting and retaining staff is comfortable at operational level, but Bower has had to work harder to attract candidates for more senior roles.
“Geographically it’s not that near other conurbations so it’s not as easy to move between employers as it is in Greater London or the Midlands,” he explains. “There are better HR and employer networks in places like London, but I moved here 14 years ago and its a very vibrant area.”
Living in the region
The North East has several major universities including Durham and Newcastle. Meanwhile, pupil to teacher ratios across the region are on or around the UK average. Class sizes in both primary and secondary schools are below average compared to the rest of the UK. However, GCSE and A level performance is lower than average.
The region is served by Newcastle International Airport, which has regular flights to London and Europe. Great North Eastern Railways operates national services from Newcastle, Darlington and Durham, while the Metro overground and underground rail network connects Newcastle, Sunderland and the coast. The A1 and A19 are the main arterial roads across the region.
Some of the latest redevelopments to the area make it one of the most exciting places to live. The Baltic Art Gallery has been an international success, while theatres, cinemas and art projects are widespread. Sport is also well represented with two Premier League football clubs and Jonny Wilkinson’s rugby team, the Newcastle Falcons.
According to figures from the Nationwide, the North East has the lowest house prices in England. However, prices are growing with an annual increase of 33.3 per cent. The average detached home in the region will cost around £161,926 with a semi worth around £115,255. The overall average price is £108,255 with flats at £73,422 and terraced houses around the £90,000 mark.
Based: Newcastle and Tees Valley
Claire-Jane Nicol, a partner at North East law firm Dickinson Dees has lived and worked in the area for the past five years, after moving down from her native Scotland.
“I moved here for my career as I found the type of work in Edinburgh very focused on financial services. You tend to get a lot more variety here,” she says.
Nicol believes one of the main benefits of living in the North East is the standard of living, compared to other major cities.
“Getting into work is fantastic and I live right on the coast. That’s the huge benefit of living here, you have the coast, the city and the countryside,” she explains.
It’s also an exciting place to live with major redevelopments in both business and cultural terms.
“When I first moved here, there was a huge buzz and that has just increased. It’s probably the most vibrant city I’ve worked in.”
In HR terms, Nicol says there’s a great deal of competition for jobs in the area with southern-based Geordies returning and people from around the UK moving to the area.
“We’ve got very low staff turnover and that’s reflected across the region. People want to work here because of the quality of life.”
move here for…
Newcastle is a legendary party town and development of the Quayside has only enhanced this.
Northumberland and Durham both have areas of unspoiled natural beauty. There are several ancient castles, and to the east there is a fantastic coastline.
Despite missing out to Liverpool for the European City of Culture, recent development work make it one of the UK’s most up-and-coming cities.
but beware of…
England’s most northerly outpost.
Winds that can literally chill even the hardiest of bones.
Confusing for the uninitiated.