Go North East, young man
Edward Twiddy’s apparently unexpected veer in career path last year – from the halls of London’s Treasury as deputy director of Local Government and Regions, sharp north to Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) – wasn’t quite as leftfield as first appeared.
“It may sound like I’m having it both ways, but there were both strong push and pull factors at play when the role with NELEP presented itself – location, role responsibilities and challenges, family, stage in my career.” (Proximity to the great fishing rivers of the Tyne and the Wear may also have had something to do with it, but we’ll come back to that.) “This whole raft of issues came together at the right place, at the right time.”
The right place was Newcastle; the right time was July 2012. However, many questioned trading a life close to the centre of power for a job in a tiny and uncertain institution at local level.
Edward’s career is well documented: an undergraduate at Durham University, he later took postgraduate studies in Life Sciences and International Law. He worked for the UN in Iraq as part of the Oil for Food programme, and on a number of international boundary disputes in Arabia and Asia. And in 2003, a couple of years after joining the Treasury, he returned temporarily to Iraq, post-war (but with his bullet-proof vest firmly secured), as part of the rebuilding efforts.
Now he’s in the North East of England – and loving it. While going to work is no longer the chore of the commute from zone 5, and there’s no need for an armed guard to travel with him, leading NELEP isn’t without its own challenges. For a start, the extensive media attention around his seemingly unforeseen departure from HMT to regional development meant that big things were expected of him. Did he feel the heat? “Of course. But the day I don’t feel the pressure to perform is the day I resign and go to do something different.”
Then there’s the remarkably multifaceted nature of the role. “It’s broader and more diverse than I’d anticipated, but that’s also part of the enjoyment. I go home and have a second glass of wine some nights after a sudden turn of events has taken me aback. But with the nature of the challenge there would be something very wrong if it wasn’t like that.”
It’s fair to say that Edward has been known to set some substantial challenges of his own. Take, for example, when he started in his current role. He stated, “There is a personal challenge to do the most with what we have, but for the LEP two years from now I’d hope to have shovel-ready schemes, have reached into the heartland of the economy to have identified and be working on what those existing companies need, and have clear vision of how we grow private enterprise.” Eighteen months later, does he think he’s on track to achieve these goals in this timescale?
“Getting the Adonis Review commissioned and published played a big part in producing the clear vision. And we’ve recently produced a draft of the economic plan, so it feels like we’re on track. As for shovel-ready schemes, the LEP has been involved in bringing forward some major infrastructure schemes on our roads, railways and helping projects gain access to Treasury debt guarantees. We’re working on more, and against the two year timescale it’s looking good.”
His Chairman also recently met with the VC of Durham University for publicity photos for a £10m injection of finance from the North East Investment Fund to a Centre for Innovation and Growth. The Investment Fund has been created using funds won by the LEP in the last two years, and is making investments in commercial property, innovation and demonstration facilities, and expansion of businesses across the North East. “And we do this with no grants – it’s all been finance that we can re-use for other projects in the future.
This is a big and positive change for the region. Last month stats came out that placed the North East above the national average growth rate per capita – production growth per head is twice that of London and the Midlands. This is testament to the productivity of our people and businesses, and we must get away from the idea that success in the North East comes only from public spending or grant funding.”
Edward recognises the strong role of Pharma in the success stories, believing it to be a stand out feature of the region. “Pharma has got some of its most productive and profitable manufacturing facilities based here in the North East. The industry is not just growing, it’s thriving. It’s a very inventive group of companies producing some very valuable products and utilising opportunities from changing regulatory environments, increasing trends towards innovation and quality in healthcare in pharma industry.”
“It’s great to see how the industry network and First for Pharma can provide long-term network capability.”
But the region also offers Edward a strong work-life balance – which brings us back to fishing. A dedicated fisher from childhood, he’s recently joined the Boards of both the Tyne and the Wear Rivers Trusts. “It’s so great to be involved in the Tyne, the greatest salmon river in England; and the Wear is a gem, with some great club fishing and huge sea trout.” His six-year-old son already has his own rod, but he concedes that his four year old is still too young. Then adds, “He has time to grow into it.”
As well as his working knowledge of Kurdish, smidgeon of Arabic and ability to order “necessities in most parts of Europe”, Edward has also brought some customs home from Iraq, such as planting trees on 21 March. “It’s their first day of spring and a very important date in their calendar, symbolising a green day. I think it’s good for us all to get our hands in the soil, especially when it warms up and promises new beginnings.”
So, looking own the line, what would he like his legacy at NELEP to be? “Probably that the North East is better understood elsewhere. We’ve got some fabulous businesses, stunning people and communities as strong as any in the rest of the country. Having this very attractive mix better appreciated would be a great outcome, and clearly in doing so raising the level of prosperity for everyone.” Then he chuckles and admits, “Saying that is like saying I’m in favour of world peace.”