FutureStory launches at the North East Economic Forum

Last Thursday in Durham FutureStory launched as part of the North East Economic Forum.  I've already blogged about why I've got involved in this joint initiative between Lucy Parker's Talent and Enterprise Taskforce and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).  The BIS press release on the day started like this:
"Business leaders in the North East today (on Feb 18) urged young people to proactively research local industries so they can rise to the challenge of getting a job in tomorrow’s global economy.  In return they pledged to help local schools and colleges play an active role in plotting the North East’s economic future."
The NEEF annual conference was a fitting forum for promoting this new initiative.  Adam Boulton of Sky News introduced a series of speakers focusing on the regeneration of the region which has moved from its industrial heritage of mining and steel to housing the UK's largest car exporter,  the National Centre for Excellence in Plastics, and a whole host of low carbon initiatives.  During the day we heard about huge off shore wind farms, a national training centre for Green Collar Workers that is in the process of being set up, Nissan's new battery plant at Sunderland, the installation of 1000 electric charging points for electric vehicles (619 by 2011) and I discovered  the location of the UK’s first Low Carbon Economic Area for Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles.   We even heard about a local venture capital fund called Jeremie!  

The Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP, the Minister of State for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination,  talked through more of the region's achievements and suggested we are a nation of inventors, so lets get on inventing things.  She explained how FutureStory intends to bring home to young people exactly what globalization means , and what the business leaders in the room were actually up to on their behalf.  More importantly to show how young people can contribute too.  Then she departed from the script and asked everyone in the room to sign a pledge to connect their business to a local school or college and get involved.   

She handed over to Lucy Parker, who explained how FutureStory is a communication device that began as a half a dozen books, explaining how globalization is already changing the way we work.  For many this topic is an abstract concept, and possibly even intimidating.  When it's discussed it's often  explained in terms of dangers and lost jobs more than for the new job opportunities coming through.  But actually there are positive stories from all over the country, and she described it as a:
"major renaissance in the next stage of industrial development"
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, the other blogger invited to attend and promote the event, filmed Lucy's introduction.  I'll put that here soon, but a photo in the meantime:

She then brought Mark Churchill (16) and Jonny McGuigan (14) along with teacher Tim Smith from Prudhoe Community High School in Northumberland on stage to explain their own FutureStories.  Mark and Jonny presented short films (which I missed, as I was ushered off for a photo shoot with Rosie Winterton and some of the students from the Prime Ministers Global Fellowship).  Tim explained that the school is built on a former open cast mine, and described the new school building as an ideal example of exactly what this initiative is all about - something:
"Built on the past shining out to the future"

Each of the six FutureStory books consists of a set of case studies and follows the same template, which identifies ten building blocks that are essential for a town, city or region to succeed in the global economy.  If you go to the website that template is available to you so that wherever you live, you can tell your own FutureStory – and become part of building the FutureStory of the UK.

While I was at the event I met some fascinating people with great globalization stories.  Mike Hanley, the contract manager for The  Crown Estate, is involved in managing the huge offshore wind farm with a consortium of 4 International power companies on the Dogger Bank, generating 10GW of power using 3000 wind turbines.  That's the equivalent of 10 large conventional power stations, say the size of Ratcliffe-on-Soar.  Then I spoke to Tony Trapp, chairman of IHC Engineering.  Tony's firm started as agricultural engineers getting involved with working on the sea bed with the oil and gas industry, but have grown in to experts at creating trench cable laying equipment for the wind industry, or building the kit for deep sea pipe laying.  He talked about one contract where something of the order of £35m of equipment and software would be manufactured in the North East, but then taken to Japan to be installed and commissioned on a ship there.   Tony told me that sometimes it was difficult to attract managerial staff to the region, but that they could get their engineers, research and creative skills from the Universities at Newcastle, Northumbria, and particularly Edinburgh.  Tony's key message to me was that the UK should be thinking about:
"niche manufacturing, and focusing on cleverness."  
One of the most interesting sessions of the day was James Dehlsen, the Chairman of Clipper Windpower.  He talked through the turbines his company designs and manufactures.  Carbon fibre spars where the structural design is on the limit for that type of blade.  Some of the statistics were staggering - a drive train weighing 65 tonnes, rotor and blades weighing 500 tones on top of the tower, and the whole thing down to ocean floor being 2200 tones  - that's a lot of steel!  He said it was all about  providing electrons at the lowest possible cost, and that he believed the UK could take global leadership in this industry.  Then he talked in terms of two of these things being installed per week.  Thats 4400 tones of structured steel.  To put it in context a 133m frigate has a displacement 3500 tonnes - so we're talking about a frigate's worth of steel every week.  Once you take in to account the installation vessels on the sea, and then operations maintenance vessels, this will be a huge long term industry providing clean and competitively price electricity in to the UK grid.  

Other speakers at the event included Alastair Darling, Ed (not David) Milliband, Greg Clarke and Sir Alan Beith, but things didn't get too party political.   Overall, this forum highlighted some real global success stories, some surprising low carbon initiatives, and some great British innovation - an excellent backdrop for FutureStory.