Jon Guest

UK & Europe

Jonathan Guest BSc MA MIED is a Senior Economist who has extensive experience in analysis and investigation of economic issues connected to transport infrastructure, labour markets and the green economy.

Jon has recently worked on the Ecosystem Services Valuation of Camley Street Natural Park and the Skills Deficit Report facing the engineering labour market.

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Over the next four years, the Government has committed to invest £13 billion in transport in the Northern Powerhouse with an ambition to change the trajectory of the region and in particular, its cities.

Building upon this investment is paramount and the North of England is configuring itself to seek further benefit from investment in transport and infrastructure investment proposals. There clearly needs to be a vision but how can the benefits be maximised? There are several areas which need to be considered:

  1. Regeneration and place making

    Investment in infrastructure will have different inputs and outputs in each city. Making the most of the regeneration and place making outcomes from transport investment is highly valuable, but having an identikit solution is not the answer. Consider HS2 investment. The overarching goal for each city is to create distinctive, connected, mixed-use development areas that attract occupiers and sustain development. However, the solution should be tailored to the opportunities, needs and characteristics of each individual location. For example, the main pedestrian gateway to Leeds railway station, which sees approximately 24,000 people per day is described as “very congested”, “not inviting” and “dark and cluttered”. The wider environment also has limited retail offer.

    Whilst Manchester Piccadilly has a differing set of characteristics and needs, in extending the city centre north and east, enhancing the tram interchange and providing more public space. These stations can be compared to the most high profile station redevelopment of recent times; Birmingham New Street. This station now provides an “airy, clean and efficient” hub which has significant retail offer and has revitalised that part of the city centre, responding to the area’s character and previous limitations. HS2 provides the chance to unlock significant regeneration and place making changes in cities, capitalising on city centre vibrancy, the functions of the station and the welcome that a station provides to visitors.
  2. Economic alignment

    Infrastructure investment can unlock further benefits if the outcomes are considered in line with some of the key or growth sectors. Investment in renewable energy across Teesside or the Humber has the potential to draw upon and enhance existing sector strengths including chemical and process industries, logistics and ports. Outlining a plan for key sectors following infrastructure investment (or vice versa) has the benefit of bringing together stakeholders (e.g. businesses, public sector organisations, education and training providers) around a route-map for future economic development.
  3. Wider benefits to people

    Infrastructure investment should also consider wider cultural, social and environmental benefits for people and local areas. There are several opportunities to maximise skills development from transport investment. Procurement, pooling public investment and establishing business and education sector collaborations are some of the tools which can be used to support skills developments in a local area. For instance, following investment in the nuclear industry in Cumbria, measures included using procurement to support apprenticeship take-up and improving careers advice for STEM. These are seeing wider benefits to the productivity and workforces of other local industries (notably manufacturing, engineering and other technical sectors).

    The commitment to investment in transport in the North of England is the start of the process. Further committed investments in energy, water or digital infrastructure can also similarly unlock wider economic benefits. However, it is important to consider that infrastructure itself is not the sole driver for economic growth, it is a conduit and driver. The real value comes from connecting up infrastructure investment with the conditions for sustainable economic growth; skills development, enterprising communities and attractive locations for living and working.

UK & Europe,

The investment in infrastructure in the North of England is at risk if current skills capacity cannot deliver this.

This challenge is exacerbated by the education and training system currently not meeting the demands of key sectors. Just under 50% of businesses involved in Engineering in the UK have difficulties in recruiting to skilled positions. Furthermore, in the North of England there are several fragmented approaches to strategic skills planning, there is a pull to the south for young, highly qualified people, young people are not being attracted into key industries, and workers in other sectors face significant barriers to retraining and moving into different specialisms or sectors.

In essence there is a multitude of skills challenges which appear to be substantial. The good news is that there are some examples of ways in which the skills challenges can and are being addressed successfully. Some of the best approaches I’ve come across which could address the skills challenge in the North:

Using procurement tools - The new National Colleges for High Speed Rail in Doncaster and Birmingham benefit from being built and established several years before skills challenges for HS2 will be acute. This allows them time to build a pipeline of skilled workers for Europe's largest infrastructure project. The High Speed Rail Colleges also benefit from skills investment that is tied to procurement, allowing the colleges to establish a business model and align learners with job opportunities. It also supports employer engagement in the curriculum and delivery. There is potential for education and training requirements in procurement to be demanded and implemented at large scale in other areas of infrastructure investment in the North of England, such as roads, energy and water.

Using data and local information - One criticism is that students are studying the ‘wrong subjects’ for what our economy needs. One way to address this is to plan the numbers of students outputted in different skills levels using labour market information, infrastructure spend and business planning information. Education and training providers are already drawing upon detailed local employment information and forecasting tools to understand the likely workplace demand for the skills they are producing. This allows education and training providers to place learners on courses which are more likely to have an employment outcome.

Targeting Careers Advice, Information and Guidance – Careers advice, information and guidance is inconsistent across the North of England. There is a recognition that to increase the supply of skills in key industries then the promotion of industry employment opportunities needs to occur. Promotion of future careers in areas with looming skills challenges to children, teachers and parents is being undertaken by employer and industry bodies.

There are further positives with the ongoing promotion of apprenticeships, creation of technical pathways (through UTCs and new Institutes of Technology) and strong performance of universities in the north of England. The North has the potential to build on its education assets, economic strengths and infrastructure investment to benefit the whole of the country. Addressing the skills challenge should be at the heart of this effort.


UK & Europe,

The Northern Powerhouse agenda has the potential to change the economic path of the North of England. Many previous attempts haven’t managed to deliver the scale of change required. Ultimately, to really shift the path of the North’s economy we need some big ideas to move us forward.

I like to start by looking at what others do around the world. For this reason it's sensible to start in the Netherlands when talking about cycling. The Netherlands’ cycle network is the envy of the world and whilst the flat topography is a huge advantage; the infrastructure is key. This includes segregated bicycle tracks, parking and changing facilities. I believe that the North of England has the potential to create a cycle network that could radically alter how people travel to work, school and for leisure along with reducing congestion and improving quality of life.

The North of England is a diverse geographic area. However, there are several intra-urban linkages which could benefit from improved cycle infrastructure. Key urban areas in the North are close enough to each other to have significant cycling movements between them, for example Newcastle to Sunderland, Bradford to Leeds, Barnsley to Sheffield. If you are reading this and are familiar with the congestion between Manchester and Warrington, primarily on the M60 and M62, you may want to consider how congestion could reduce if the 18 mile route between Manchester and Warrington was easier to cycle. In many parts of the North, there is existing infrastructure such as canals, old railway lines and roads, which could be adapted to improve the cycle network and provide a viable option for commuters.

What’s the big deal about bikes?
The health benefits from cycling are well known but understated. As someone who is comparative late comer to cycling, the health benefits are striking. Cycling is low impact, a cardiovascular workout and is reported to reduce stress. These are seen to be a key reasons cycling prevents around 11,000 deaths each year in the Netherlands and Dutch people have half a year longer life expectancy than the average European. There are also benefits of school children cycling, with strong cycle networks pointing to their lower rates of obesity, better performance in sports and improved attendance levels.

The economic benefits are also calculated to outweigh investment. A reported €0.5 billion investment per year by the Dutch government on road and parking infrastructure for cycling estimated to yield total economic health benefits of €19 billion per year, linked to health, job and environmental benefits. This goes back to the idea that if you focus on the outcome you may decide on some surprising outputs to achieve it.

The North has already shown that it can host the ‘Tour de France’, maybe now it’s time we designed and created a cycle network, linked with the wider transport infrastructure to support local people, businesses and the economy in the North of England.

UK & Europe,

The Northern Powerhouse initiative has the potential to change the economic path of the North of England. It also has the potential to be a lot of rhetoric which does not go anywhere. At the moment the Government’s agenda is heavily transport led. There are also a series of exciting developments in other areas across the North of England including plans for regeneration of city and town centres, devolution allowing locally led decision making, and new ways of supplying power to business and communities. All these can help unlock economic growth across the North of England.

Working in economic development I am always pleased to see new attempts to improve the economies, lives and prospects of those from communities across the UK. Many previous approaches have not delivered the scale of change required. To change the path of the North’s economy I think we need some big ideas which are implemented in full.

I have a series of ideas which I would like to propose which I believe could change the path of the North of England’s economy, society and environment.I explain one idea below (with more to follow) and am happy to hear thoughts and counter arguments to each. Please comment or get in touch.

Idea 1: 5 hours a week of careers advice for high school students
My first ‘big idea’ is that high school students are offered 5 hours of careers advice a week, delivered by businesses or professional institutions. This is a huge amount of time for careers advice given the competing priorities for students. However, careers advice, information and guidance can contribute to several key aspects of young people’s lives and the economy in general.

  • Increased time for focused careers advice could make a real change to:
    Raising Aspiration – More business led careers advice could broaden horizons, as well as deepen knowledge and understanding of possible job and training opportunities. It could boost self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness of their own strengths and qualities.
  • Skills Shortages - There is critical shortage of engineers in the UK, including across the North of England. This is a serious situation where skills shortages as well as demographic factors (e.g. ageing workforce) could exacerbate delays and rising costs in large infrastructure projects.
  • Supporting Social Mobility - It is calculated that 1 in 3 children are affected by poverty in some areas of the North. Providing information on potential careers and routes into them can provide young people with more knowledge about potential future jobs and give them confidence to seek employment in different areas.

Not all young adults have a career in mind when they are in high school or college. Many do not decide on a career until they are in the world of work, after which time it becomes too expensive or time intensive to retrain. Providing young people with more information on potential careers provides individuals with better information to make decisions. This in turn can benefit the economy. Better supply of skills and matching of demand with skills in the labour market could be worth a reported £10.6 billion to the economy annually. Furthermore increased careers advice could also offer other benefits including more rounded education, fostering strong links between businesses and schools, supporting the apprenticeship agenda and reducing public expenditure on infrastructure.

UK & Europe,