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A COVID-19 Emergency Response taskforce, launched by the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), provides crucial support for many of its members.

On the 18th March, early into the pandemic, the NEAA held its first COVID-19 Emergency Response Group meeting. The group, which includes original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), tier 1 automotive suppliers and SMEs, came together to share information and best practice regarding company responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Butler, Chief Executive, North East Automotive Alliance, said: “Very early into the pandemic Stephen Irish of Hyperdrive Innovation, a member and executive board member, requested we bring a group together to share information and strategies regarding how companies were tackling the pandemic.

“Stephen recognised the power of the cluster in bringing together global best practice from our multi-national member companies and sharing it across the network. The results are a clear demonstration of the agility and impact of the cluster organisation working to support its members.”

The group took advantage of digital technologies to meet virtually on a weekly basis. Initially focusing on how to manage the response to the coronavirus, the group shared best practice, discussed key issues, and used the NEAA as a catalyst to engage with key Government departments to raise issues and inform policy discussions.

Paul Butler continued: “Since our launch the NEAA has acted on behalf of the region’s automotive sector and we are engaged on many groups and boards – from the NELEP Business Growth Board and Skills Advisory Panel, to the Automotive Council Supply Chain Group, Skills and Regional Engagement Forum to the European Automotive Cluster Network. Through these activities we can influence and inform policy discussions and response strategies, ensuring our member needs are represented.

“Our significant reach into industry was recognised by policy makers in Government. We worked closely with Government departments to gather critical information and feedback on policy decisions; this was particularly pertinent regarding the Job Retention Scheme where member opinions were canvased and delivered within two hours prior to its announcement during the Prime Ministers briefing event that evening.”

Once response strategies had been informed, the group quickly moved onto focusing its efforts on informing restart strategies. The health and safety of employees was of paramount importance. The outcome was a best practice check sheet which considered Government advice and best practice from across the group and was distributed across the NEAA network, through the NELEP Business Growth Board and Provider Network and UK and European automotive clusters.

Hyperdrive Innovation and ZF Automotive are two members who are actively involved in the taskforce.

Chris Pennison, Chief Executive, Hyperdrive Innovation, said: “Being part of the taskforce is proving extremely useful. It provides an opportunity for businesses in the supply chain to speak freely about how they are dealing with the challenges they face. It is thought-provoking and very informative. We are all implementing the same procedures but with slight variations and it is those different perspectives that are so useful.”

Robin Finley, Plant Manager, ZF Automotive, said: “There are various different automotive clusters around the country, but none covering the UK as a whole. We are aligned to the NEAA for the North East element and have significant input, which allows us to have some say in what gets to Government.

“The NEAA is specific to the region and in these COVID-19 times it has really come into its own, bringing best practice and company sharing (non-confidential information) together, to make sure we are all on the same page and making the most of the furlough scheme for our businesses.”

Paul Butler commented “The COVID-19 Emergency Response Group was one of many other activities the cluster undertook to support members during these unprecedented times. To date we have delivered 35 webinars, established a dedicated COVID-19 bulletin and webpage disseminating the latest information and guidance, supported Government calls for vital equipment and PPE to support our frontline services and provided one to one support for member companies. The NEAA provides an unparalleled collaborative network where companies find benefit from leadership and co-ordination of activities of mutual benefit – our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a clear demonstration of this”.