The Northern Powerhouse is real and is a genuine attempt to
develop a programme capable of achieving sustained growth across
the North to address the productivity gap and contribute more to UK
But we need to be honest about that fact that the history of
pan-northern collaboration is patchy at best and there is no
guarantee of success with the Northern Powerhouse, even backed by
Government support. It needs to align the political objectives of
the different parts of the North, while securing the buy-in of
business, HE sectors and others, in order to sustain it over the
long term, sufficient to make the step changes needed.
One of the biggest challenges it faces is that I still don't
think anyone has fully worked out the agenda yet and there is a
real danger that it drifts into a catch-all title for every
publicly-funded programme in the North.
Building a knowledge economy in the North is the central purpose
of the Northern Powerhouse, without which there will be no prospect
of closing the productivity gap. This, in my view, should take the
form of a small number of strategic interventions, which are best
focused on a pan-regional geography. Things which are capable of
being delivered effectively at a sub-city region level should not
form part of the Northern Powerhouse.
Clearly, subjects such as Northern connectivity fit into the
former category, as would higher-level skills, R&D and
knowledge transfer involving collaboration between universities and
industry at a pan-regional level. This is particularly the case
where the opportunity draws on the collective strength of different
parts of the North, to create something of genuine international
significance or even world leading.
However, currently there isn't a consensus around the fact
that the North isn't and never will be a homogenous place and
that it is the big cities which will be the key growth engines.
These, together with the ports and airports, will be the key places
for primary investment with supply chain opportunities spreading
into the crucial hinterland around our cities.
So how do we reconcile the pan-regional need when the distinct
cities will be the economic drivers?
The cities should work together to recognise and maximise the
potential and intensity of economic activity in each place,
specifically around high growth and high skill sectors including
advanced manufacturing, digital industries, Financial Services and
health and life sciences. They should then ensure that transport
and digital communication enhancements will connect people to the
key opportunities, rather than trying to engineer the opportunities
into suboptimal locations.
Lastly, we must see the continued support and commitment to the
Norther Powerhouse from Westminster during this period of political
change. Whilst the North can take responsibility for the optimal
alignment of local, regional and pan-regional economic activity,
the success of the Northern Powerhouse will only be secured as long
as it retains the prominence it enjoyed during the general election
to give stakeholders the confidence that it remains a national
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