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Room at the top of the Northern Powerhouse

Janet Miller | 15 Mar 2016 | Comments

Earlier this month Ofsted released a report highlighting key cities in the north of England, including Manchester and Liverpool, which are failing pupils, emphasising falling GCSE results as the cause.

The report’s findings raise a number of challenging questions for the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, specifically in terms of creating a sustainable approach to education, aspiration and skills. After all you can create all the jobs in the wold, but if you haven’t got people with the necessary skills to deliver them they are of little value and are certainly not going to result in the economic prosperity that is desired. Without the foundations of a strong and stable education system, one that inspires and provokes ambition, surely it will mean the Northern Powerhouse is setting itself up to fail.

Taking the topic of education and aspiration a step further, it reminds me of an old saying ‘shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations’. It describes a pattern of family wealth gained in one generation that is often lost by the third through a combination of complacency and stagnation of appetite for success.  For me this could be a very real risk facing the Northern Powerhouse if we invest in the railway, airports and broadband, but are unable to inspire and empower the next generation and continue to build momentum across the region into the future.  

Of course, no one can argue with the positive impacts of economic growth, better transport links and business confidence for a city and the surrounding community. As the Northern Powerhouse connectivity plans get underway, many cities will of course begin to see the physical changes that make it easier to move from east to west. But does physical connectivity, on its own, have the power to deliver prosperity and productivity in the all-important long term?

Unfortunately not, transport connectivity can’t answer all the challenges facing towns and cities. More is needed to ensure places become holistic, self-reliant and prosperous spaces. The heart of the Northern Powerhouse success will be how people feel, the environment they experience and their place in its success. We need to ensure the initiative isn’t a flash in the pan of investment, increased connectivity and is only a focus for the next decade. Through the commitment of individuals and communities to its agenda, young people who are core to the sustainability and longevity of the programme will ensure it lives on and avoids the trappings of ‘shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.’

It will be through a resilient and inspiring education system we can invest and grow the next generation, providing them with the support to aspire to new heights, whether that be entrepreneurship opportunities, apprenticeships or university, with the knowledge there is always room at the top, if you are ambitious enough.