Was the Northern Powerhouse a slogan that has now lost its sponsor?
Back in 2014, the former chancellor George Osborne created the Northern Powerhouse in a bid to promote and facilitate investment and growth in the North of England – with particular focus on Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.
As the CEO of a global business based in the North, I found this very welcome news, and something that I hoped could bring huge benefits to an already thriving business world.
The proposal aimed to reposition the UK economy away from its reliance on London, and show just how prosperous and powerful the North of the country is. We’ve always known it, but this was our chance to prove to those in the South East how much of a powerhouse we really are.
We have the history, the culture, the quality of life, the major cities and huge economic strength to compete with any region in the world, along with the people skills and passion to deliver the competitive advantage, which all these significant assets deserve.
Since Mr Osborne’s departure as a result of new Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, I have my concerns about what will happen to the Northern Powerhouse. Councils in the North have a chequered history of working together, but Mr Osborne's promotion of the Northern Powerhouse resonated widely. Will it be forgotten about now he’s no longer there to be the driving force behind it?
Conservative MP Andrew Percy (yes you are not the only one who has never heard of him) has been appointed as the new ‘Northern Powerhouse Minister’ – but will he deliver on the promises that have been made? Does he have the profile, connections, passion and tenacity to see it through?
Anyone who knows me will be well aware how I am more than happy to embrace change and transformation, and I am keeping the faith that this change will be a positive one, and will bring about the promises that were made back in 2014.
Change does not come easily and now our politicians will squabble over vested interests and personal agendas when the focus of the proposed change has disappeared.
Eleven areas have so far signed deals with the government to devolve powers away from Westminster – with the race already on for a new mayor in Manchester.
I’ve no doubt that those 11 areas will have their agreements honoured – but what of the remaining areas?
Northerners are proud people, and there’s no denying that a lot of work will have been going on behind the scenes by councils across the region to get behind the concept of a Northern Powerhouse.
In March, the North East Institute of Directors commissioned a survey of people across the North and found that only 20% had a negative opinion of the concept.
It was a popular policy, and was bought into heavily. People who have worked hard to get where they are certainly won’t be giving up without a fight. And nor should they.
Foreign investment in the North of England has doubled over the past two years, with the number of unemployed dropping by 127,000. So it’s already proving its worth.
Two of the fastest growing towns and cities in England are right here in the North. As an adopted Geordie, this doesn’t surprise me in the least, but I’m sure it will come as a shock to the London elite.
The Northern Powerhouse policy hopes to redress the North-South economic imbalance, as well as attracting investment into northern cities and towns. We miss the interconnected-ness, the infrastructure and the government commitment to help us deliver our unique capability.
We’ve done the groundwork, we’ve lain the foundations, so let’s give our backing to this policy, and get on with doing what we’re good at. Selling the North as a premiere place to do business.
The North of England was once the economic powerhouse of Britain, and I believe it can be great again.