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The programme will help to match firms with business opportunities and provide them with the chance to collaborate with others. It will benchmark their performance, share best practice and provide master class workshops and consultancy services to help participants grow their businesses, secure new clients and boost their competitiveness.

Both existing SME automotive supply chain companies and those who are interested in working with the sector are eligible to take part in the programme.

NEAA chief executive Paul Butler said: “We identified this as the NEAA’s first project because it covers the two most important aspects of our strategy: to establish and build our network by showcasing the region’s SME capability, and to provide immediate solutions to North East businesses to help existing supply chain companies overcome barriers to growth or to help those who have the propensity to enter the supply chain overcome barriers to entry.

“Companies that sign up will undergo an initial diagnostic where barriers are highlighted. Those SMEs will be able to participate in the NEAA best practice visits and master class workshops. Where more intensive support is required the NEAA will provide more concentrated support through a pool of suitable consultants.”

The programme, which is partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, will bring together large and small companies in the automotive sector, including Sunderland-based Hyperdrive Innovation, which makes powertrain and battery systems for the electric, hybrid and conventional vehicle markets and Sevcon, operating worldwide from its headquarters in Gateshead.

Hyperdrive managing director Stephen Irish said: “As a developer and manufacturer of innovative technologies for low carbon vehicles in the North East of England, Hyperdrive Innovation is excited to be playing a leading role in the NEAA and welcomes this crucial new initiative to further industry collaboration and raise the profile of the outstanding work being done by SMEs in this region.

Matt Boyle, chief executive of Sevcon, said: “In establishing the cluster here in the North East the Alliance identified collaboration and sharing of best practice as two of its core objectives. Development of and collaboration in the supply chain will make us stronger together and help raise the profile of the North East Automotive sector in the UK and beyond.”

The programme will play a key role in meeting the NEAA’s objectives to boost efficiencies and reduce costs, while helping to increase the overall competitiveness of the North East’s automotive supply chain.