Campaigning enthusiast makes her mark

This issue, the spotlight is on Marianne O’Sullivan, who has made a seamless transition from Newcastle University graduate to representing North East England Chamber of Commerce members on vital policy issues, including transport. Mark Lane reports

As learning curves go, they don’t come much steeper: from studying politics as an undergraduate at Newcastle University to advising members of the North East England Chamber of Commerce on vital issues, in areas such transport.

The past 12 months have been a rollercoaster ride for Marianne O’Sullivan, a policy advisor with the North East England Chamber of Commerce. She joined fresh out of university and was delighted to find a role which ticked all her boxes – providing rewarding, stimulating work while allowing her to stay in the region after her studies.

“I was looking for a role that would allow me to develop my research skills and importantly work on projects that I feel would have a wider positive impact,” she explains.

“I thought the policy adviser role at the Chamber would allow me to work on campaigns that would help to benefit the whole of the North East. It was also rare to see a policy role that allowed undergraduate applicants based outside of London.

“I enjoyed living in Jesmond whilst at university with Jesmond Dene being so close and I was keen to stay in the North if possible as it’s much more affordable to live and rent.”

As a policy adviser at the Chamber, Marianne’s work covers transport and development policy. This includes housing, rail improvements, air quality issues and more. She works as part of the Chamber’s policy team to deliver on aims for the Stronger North East campaign.

“I organise the Chamber’s transport and development forums to discuss issues with members as well as organising roundtable events with key policy makers,” she says. “Based
on member feedback I also write responses to consultations such as the Government’s rail review or at a more local level the recent air quality consultation.

“I also work with our partner members on reports and interview interested members. I’m currently working on
a report with Womble Bond Dickinson on how improving connectivity can improve international trade in the North East.”

How, then, do Marianne and her colleagues ensure that the policy matters that they pursue are those that mean the most to the Chamber’s members? She replies: “We consult with all our members on our Stronger North East campaign to see what

they want us to concentrate on. For example, last year digital connectivity was mentioned as an important issue so we’re looking to have a research project around this.

“Rail connectivity has also repeatedly been mentioned in different policy forums and meetings I have had with members, so we are campaigning on these issues.”

She adds: “Ensuring there are reliable local links around the North East is also crucial, whether through making key roads such as the A19 or A66 more resilient or through more reliable public transport services. This will allow people to travel to work or to easily connect to key transport hubs such as airports and rail stations.”

The Chamber is a no-nonsense organisation – if a person is 71good enough, they are old enough. As such, there has been
no hesitation in throwing Marianne in at the deep end. She
admits to some trepidation at first. “When I first started going speaking in front of people who were a lot more experienced in different sectors and often older than me,” she says. “I’ve learnt now that people won’t judge you for asking questions and it’s often useful to give a different perspective on issues.”

Her first 12 months have also opened her up to the challenge of dealing with the media – a key challenge for all those working in a public facing role with such a high profile body.

“One of my main achievements has been speaking on the radio and TV about the Chamber’s views on the clean air proposals,” she says, once again showing she has grown into an important aspect of the policy role.