Beyond the pomp & ceremony

Like any typical lad from the North East, I’d never been to the Guildhall before.  It is deep within the City of London in the Financial District.  The whole place oozes money. £millions change hands at the drop of a hat.  And many of the problems I’m dealing with started here, their roots in financial speculation undermining the foundations of our economy.

I found myself here to attend the Global Investment Summit.  This was a gathering of global business leaders and government leaders from across the UK.  That was on Tuesday last week.  So on Monday I got on a train with a mission to bring more jobs to the region, starting with a formal dinner at the Guildhall on the Monday evening. 

On the way down to London I was reading The Northumbrians by Dan Jackson.  A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Dan, and his in-depth knowledge of the region piqued my interest.  I’d highly recommend his book (and I’m not on commission). 

He mentions about the Coal Exchange in London.  It’s demolished now but was a magnificent building on the Banks of the Thames, 15 minutes walk from the Guildhall.  Its place in the City of London and grandeur demonstrated the power and wealth that was shared by the North East.  A grandeur that’s still reflected in some of the buildings here.  During this time the North East was known for its hard-working people, inventiveness, and for enjoying a couple of drinks now and then.  I believe none of that has changed.

Today, even closer to the Guildhall, just around the corner in fact, is a Greggs bakery.  

Having trumpeters in bearskin hats at dinner was a new one on me, along with loyal toasts to the Queen.  There was a gentleman known as the Toast Master who introduced the speakers.  To gain attention the usual “Ladies and Gentlemen” was preceded by a long list of Excellencies, Lords, Aldermen, Chancellor, Secretaries of State, and First Commoner.  Not Mayors though.

But beyond the pomp I managed to have some productive conversations about real stuff with the business leaders there.  Low carbon transport, offshore wind, health technology, future of hydrogen.  I even talked to a rep from Mitsubishi about jiu jitsu. 

After the Guildhall Steve Rotheram, Andy Burnham and I decided to find a real pub for a proper pint.  Steve said it was reported that £24 trillion was represented in that room.  I had £30 in notes in my pocket, not sure if that was counted or not.

Tuesday morning, the Global Investment Summit began at the Science Museum. So I wound my way through a huge police presence, and off to the breakfast networking event.  There was as much muesli and yogurt as you could eat…

At the keynote speech Mr Johnson regaled us with his after dinner speaking wit.  I was hoping for detailed plans for the future of our country, but he focused on jokes about Peppa Pig.  And said the free market would sort out the other problems. 

The contacts and conversations were useful.  I’d set up a string of meetings with people about developing their businesses here, in the North of Tyne.  I have a stack of leads for my team to follow up, and we’re working hard to translate them into real jobs. 

Then it was back on the train, laptop out, until that amazing view of the Tyne bridges as you approach Central Station.

Barely had I got my feet back on North Eastern soil, I put my suit jacket in my backpack and cycled over to Verisure’s Centre of Excellence near Longbenton.  

I spoke with Luis Gill, their founder and global president.  I first spoke to Verisure two years ago, when we persuaded them to locate here.  I told them I wanted to build a green economy based on good jobs.  They told me they wanted to build a loyal workforce by treating their employees well.    Two years on, they already employ 400 people.  Now they’re recruiting another 100. 

And as for good work, they’ve just given their staff an average 12% pay rise.  So if you’re after a job, send them your CV. 

*Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 25 Oct 2021