The North has a strong foundation in culture and heritage and a good way of life, so the idea of supplementing this with a more prosperous and growing economy that is competitive on the world stage is an obvious next step. I think most of us would agree.
The challenges start to arise when it comes to the ‘how’. There are lots of good ideas, but nobody has the definitive answer or a plan, and who makes the actual decisions on behalf of the region? Everyone is agreed that the Northern Powerhouse should be driven at a local level and not be prescribed out of Westminster. But at the moment, central government is the only body which doesn’t sit within a geographic boundary or within an industry sector such as transport or energy and as such can make decisions based on the whole rather than the sum of parts.
It can be done, look at how the Rhine Ruhr cluster of cities in Germany works or how the GLA has bought together 32 borough’s to work together for the greater good of London. There must be lessons we can learn to ensure the Northern Powerhouse is the best it can be from the outset, at the same time as having the flexibility to build on its existing assets and create its own destiny.
It may sound obvious but we need a plan, or perhaps it is a plan of plans – something which brings together the great work that’s being done already by the likes of Transport for the North or around the energy coast. It won’t be easy – we’ll need to make compromises, difficult decisions around prioritisation and choices which may benefit the broader region above individual towns and cities. But we need to get going quickly if we are to take full advantage of the central government funding that will come our way.
We’ve given some careful thought to where we would start. We believe that if we focused on five core components of a plan we can go from small steps to giant leaps over the next decade or so:
- Establish world-class hubs across the region in sectors such as new media, digital, health innovation, advanced engineering and manufacturing and energy. We already have many of the skills and resources in these industries to ensure we can compete on the world stage.
- Create an increasingly attractive environment for business and people. For business this means looking at incentives such as taxation, enterprise zones or support for innovation. We also need to think about making the region a high priority for investors. For people this means investing in the region’s social infrastructure.
- Develop and retain skills in world-class industries and professional services. This requires education and business to come together to ensure young people are being taught the skills that employers need and that companies provide the long term, local career opportunities for this skilled workforce.
- Improve connectivity between our major towns and cities and between our cities and ports and airports. This will include thinking about the long-term and short-term options.
- Ensure there is strong and stable governance across the Northern Powerhouse delivering our single and coordinated vision and plan. This is vital to attract the necessary funding and investment and will help maximise the benefits of investment in infrastructure, transport, energy and skills.
The starting pistol for the Northern Powerhouse was fired almost a year ago and a lot has happened during that time, from devolution deals being signed to major international delegations for the region. The National Infrastructure Commission and Transport for the North will have made their recommendations to the Chancellor on northern connectivity by now and we are hopeful that significant funding will be announced in the March 2016 budget. If we see these as the pace setters it’s now up to us work hard ready to overtake and drive forward to success.
I’ll explore each of the five points in more detail in the coming weeks / months.