Seven years at the NEAA – CEO talks about the alliance’s achievements

It’s seven years since I left NEPIC to launch the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) – and what a journey it’s been!

Having honed my cluster management skills during my ten years at NEPIC, one of Europe’s most successful clusters, I relished the opportunity to lead the establishment of the North East Automotive Cluster.

Launched in the March 2015, the NEAA is an industry led and membership-based cluster to support the sustainable economic growth and competitiveness of the North East automotive sector. Today, the NEAA is the largest automotive cluster in the UK and is widely recognised as an exemplar cluster.

Through the NEAA companies find benefit from leadership and co-ordination of activities, which have mutual benefit. The network provides a unparalleled collaborative network which is supportive of existing companies and is a more compelling and attractive environment for investors.

Key to the success of the NEAA has been the powerful combination of a first-class team of people who bring together their selected expertise and an industry Advisory Board consisting of plant manager level senior executives with unmatched automotive experience.

In 2019, we set out our Vision for the NEAA to be the catalyst through which the North East becomes the location of choice for automotive investment in Europe, and that the region will be recognised as a true automotive powerhouse which encompasses a very dynamic, forward looking, and competitive supply chain that incorporates strengths in research, development and innovation in new automotive technologies and manufacturing processes.

The strategy continues to focus on 5 key thematic areas:

  1. Network and Connectivity
  2. Business Resilience
  3. Skills
  4. Innovation & Technology
  5. Trade & Investment

There have been many highlights thus, here are a select few:

  • Working Group activities which have developed a significant level of collaboration and trust across the sector, which has delivered significant benefits to member companies and regional competitiveness.
  • In March 2016 we were awarded the Bronze Label in a record time. The evaluation indicated that the NEAA would meet the quality indicators for “Cluster Management Excellence Label GOLD label”
  • The NEAA is now an established participant on 13 regional and national industry boards, demonstrating effective engagement with the innovation system and has been able to shape policy direction in support of the North East automotive sector at regional, national and international level.
  • To date, the NEAA has been involved in the delivery of over £17m of publicly funded projects, including current projects such as:
    • £4.9m 5G Create funded project, 5G Connected & Automated Logistics (CAL) – which will see the UK’s first automated 40 tonne truck operating between Vantec and Nissan.
    • £8.7m ERDF funded Supply Chain North East – a collaboration between NEAA, NEPIC, Generator and RTC North to support SMEs with diversification into new sectors or expansion in existing sectors.
    • £1.2m ERDF funded Next Generation Advanced Manufacturing Accelerator (NGAMA) – which provides consultancy support and grant funding to support the introduction of new technologies and products to SMEs.
  • Established several key cluster events including the flagship North East Automotive Expo, which in five years has attracted over 2,300 delegates, supported more than 550 1-2-1 meet the buyer meetings and attracted delegations from across the UK and overseas; and the NEAA Annual Awards, which recognises automotive excellence in the region and has awarded over £32,000 in support of the region’s future talent.
  • Delivery of the NEAA Covid Response Group – which brought together global best practice from OEM’s, Tier 1’s and SMEs to share information and strategies regarding how companies were tackling the pandemic, planning for restart to ensure the health and safety of employees, and working with Government departments to gather critical information and feedback on policy decisions.

It’s fair to say the last few years have been tough for the sector with impacts of Covid-19 and the global semiconductor shortage. We continue to face these headwinds and more with increasing energy costs, decarbonisation and skills challenges adding to the mix. The conflict in the Ukraine will undoubtedly exacerbate these issues.

However, what I’ve learned in the seven years here at the NEAA is that the North East Automotive sector is resilient. It remains a beacon of productivity with exceptional workforce productivity and high levels of automation, and we are the leading location for vehicle electrification, with a heritage dating back to the 1920’s. This is reflected in the unprecedented levels of investment announced since December 2020, with over £3.85bn of vehicle electrification investment heading to the region.

The first seven years have been a whirlwind of activity and success, and I want to thank members, the board and the fantastic NEAA team (past and present) for their support. I am looking forward to the next seven years, and working with the Board, the team, our members, stakeholder, and partners to realise our vision. Given the true impact of a cluster is only felt over the medium to long term, it’s going to be an exciting journey – hold on to your hats!