The City Taskforce, a collaboration of 17 leading organisations and employers, chaired by Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes of the City of Newcastle, held its eighth meeting today via Zoom. The Taskforce was formed to develop a collaborative approach to the City’s response to COVID-19, from crisis to recovery and beyond. City leaders focused their discussion on innovation-led economic recovery to ensure new jobs and growth for the region, which is at the centre of the latest Newcastle Response. The Taskforce heard case studies on tech scale-ups Portt and GreenBe, both of which are based in Newcastle, as well as Industry Response Program grant recipient Matt Field of Field Frequency, whose live music initiative Music People is supporting the recovery of the local arts and entertainment industry. Being the Taskforce’s penultimate meeting, members discussed the continuation of work streams through the City of Newcastle’s Strategy and Innovation Committee, chaired by Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen, following the final City Taskforce meeting on 4 December 2020.
COVID-19 case update – Hunter New England Local Health District
With further easing of restrictions this week, Hunter New England Health’s Executive Director Partnerships, Innovation and Research, Jane Gray, briefed the Taskforce on the latest COVID-19 case statistics for the region. To date, there have been 300 local cases since the pandemic began and four deaths. There are currently no cases in hospital or in Intensive Care Units within the Hunter New England Local Health District. Recent sewage testing has not detected any active virus being excreted. However, calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre concerning hand sanitiser exposure incidents have increased 2.2-fold from January to June when compared with the same period in 2019.
Economic outlook and the impact on local jobs
Around 37,000 jobs have been lost since February across the Hunter Region, representing an 11% fall. However, the three-month moving average shows a marginal change in employment, with 378 jobs lost. Young people – in particular, the 25-34-year-old cohort – have felt these job losses most profoundly, with the Hunter’s youth unemployment rate rising to 20.7% in September. Across the country, about 500,000 people under the age of 35 lost their job in the early stages of the pandemic, with around 300,000 still out of work in September. Hospitality remains one of the worst affected industries, with a higher proportion of young people employed in this sector.
While the Federal Budget included extended JobKeeper arrangements until March and partly addressed disproportionate job losses to youth through JobMaker and support for apprentices, the efficacy of other measures to stimulate economic recovery, such as tax cuts, will not be known for some time, particularly with the increases in personal saving rates. The lowest-paid occupations have seen the greatest decline in employment, while employment in the highest-paid occupations has increased.
Pioneering innovation-led economic recovery
The innovation economy plays a critical and fundamental role in ensuring economic recovery and sustainable growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. City of Newcastle engaged widely with start-ups, scale-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the University of Newcastle to develop The Newcastle Response – Innovation Economy.
Taskforce members endorsed policy asks of the State and Federal Governments to invest in innovation-led economic activity, including:
- Co-funding the University of Newcastle’s new Regional Transformation Hub within the Hunter STEMM Precinct
- Supporting the development of a Newcastle Innovation Precinct that aligns with the strategic vision of the Sydney Innovation and Technology Precinct
- Prioritising smart infrastructure investment in Newcastle as a technology testbed and living laboratory
- Increasing tax concessions for investing in innovation to incentivise entrepreneurship and angel investment to fuel job creation.
Newcastle is Australia’s largest and most mature innovation ecosystem outside of a capital city, where industry, start-ups, local government and the education sector collaborate to validate innovative solutions to global problems.
Case studies: Portt and GreenBe
The Taskforce heard case studies on tech scale-ups Portt and GreenBe to illustrate some of the advantages and barriers to innovation in Newcastle.
Citizen engagement platform GreenBe designed the software layer for the City of Newcastle’s Lean in Newy app, which hosts one of the City’s COVID-19 response measures. Lean in Newy connects our community spirit to the places where it’s needed most and rewards participants with incentives at local businesses. Founded in Sydney, GreenBe also has a Newcastle office, which has not only retained all of its employees during the pandemic, but prioritises investment in and the upskilling of local talent to remain competitive with capital cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. CEO David Catalovski was supportive of putting Newcastle on the map as an innovation hub.
Portt is an intelligent strategic sourcing, contract and supplier management platform, with an office and a staff of 10 in Newcastle, as well as Sydney and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Co-CEO and Founder, Andre Pinkowski, outlined some of the resourcing and supply chain challenges that often came with operating from a regional centre, but backed the need to build on the momentum that existed in Newcastle. Portt is also embedding the Taskforce’s Greater Newcastle Youth Employment Charter objectives within its policies to prioritise skills development and early career opportunities for young people.
Industry Response Program update: Music People
Taskforce members received an update from one of the City of Newcastle’s Industry Response Program grant recipients, Matt Field of Field Frequency, whose live music initiative Music People received a share of a $500,000 funding pool. The fortnightly gigs, which showcase Newcastle’s diversity of musical talent, are live-streamed to a network of social media platforms to allow home-grown talent to be discovered. From 17 November, the shows will be open to a live audience at the Civic Theatre as well as online every other Tuesday night through to the end of summer.
Beyond 2020: The Strategy and Innovation Committee
With the final City Taskforce meeting to be held on 4 December 2020, the City of Newcastle’s Strategy and Innovation Committee, chaired by Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen, will continue the important work of the Taskforce’s work streams to guide the City’s COVID-19 recovery. Membership is open to all Taskforce members, several of which already sit on the committee.
The final City Taskforce meeting will also workshop the City of Newcastle’s forthcoming Economic Development Strategy, which will incorporate the work that has already been achieved by the Taskforce.
Find out more about the City Taskforce – Industry Representation.