In our latest Spotlight On feature, Leanne Fawcett chats with Philip Cunliffe, regional business editor of Insider Media, the company behind the hugely popular Made in the North East Awards and Made in the UK awards.

The Made in the North East Awards 2018 are being supported by CDEMN, so we ask Philip what he thinks about the state of the engineering and manufacturing industries in the region and the growth of the awards as a platform to celebrate North East business success.

Tell us more about the Made in the North East Awards

We launched the awards in 2012 with the aim of highlighting the excellence and quality of the region’s manufacturing base. Manufacturing businesses are not always given the recognition or the praise they deserve, so we set out to change that. In the six years we have run the awards in the region, over 200 companies have been involved and we are on track for a record year of entries and attendees at this year’s awards dinner.

Although the awards have attracted some of the very large manufacturers in the region we have always encouraged the smaller firms to get involved too – those for whom winning an award would really mean something for the staff and give the business a welcome boost and some free publicity! The awards dinner is always a very enjoyable occasion and we love showcasing some truly exceptional companies doing brilliant, dynamic work in markets both at home and abroad.

Insider now has a stable of ten regional Made In… Awards across the UK, the winners of each going forward to compete against each other in the national final, Made in the UK Awards, held each Summer. So, winning a Made in the North East Award puts you firmly on the national stage.

The awards have been running for a number of years now.  Is the growth of the awards reflective of the growth of the industry?

Like all awards it takes a couple of years to get real traction and momentum but, as there were no other awards in the North East dedicated solely to the engineering and manufacturing sector, we’ve managed to grow them at a good rate. The awards are complemented by our daily North East business newsletter which features manufacturing news almost every day. So we have a very good inside track on how businesses are performing in the region and how they are growing. Many of the companies that appear on the newsletter end up in the shortlists for the Awards, so it’s always worth providing us with news!

What do you see as the challenges and opportunities for companies within the engineering and manufacturing sectors?

As well as our daily digital news feed, we also produce a quarterly review of the manufacturing sector in the region for the Manufacturing Growth Network. The latest edition of this was published last week and it made clear that confidence has really picked up over the last few months, with manufacturing activity in the region rising to a historic high in the last three months. There is strengthening domestic demand but export balances appear to be flat. This is a concern as we enter a more uncertain period leading up to our exiting the EU. Also, we constantly hear from manufacturers about the skills shortage in the region, especially engineering skills, but the strong growth in engineering apprenticeships over the last two years I think is beginning to make a real difference.

How important are events like EMCON to the industry?

Extremely important as they showcase the very high quality that North East companies offer, the excellent products they supply and the talented workforces they employ. Bringing together the cream of the sector under one roof and inviting delegates to come and see what they have to offer is one of the best ways of putting engineering businesses on the map and in front of potential customers. And this is why 18th October – which sees EMCON taking place during the day and the Made in the North East Awards in the evening – is such an important date in the calendar for the region. We can’t wait!