ONE OF the country’s leading business figures has called for action on transport links and skills in the North to unleash its economic potential.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the employers’ organisation the CBI, called on the Government to “harness the wisdom” of business leaders as it delivers its plans to turn the North into an “economic powerhouse”.
The CBI will launch Business North in Leeds today, a new group aiming to give the private sector a voice as the Government moves to given local leaders more powers over money and powers currently controlled by Whitehall.
Ms Fairburn said: “With the Government’s devolution agenda opening up many new possibilities, business has both the enthusiasm and the capability to engage with government at all levels to ensure that the voice of business is heard and acted on.
“Tackling weak transport links and ensuring young people have access to the education and training they need to succeed are just two of the essential conditions to unlock economic growth far beyond London.
“Harnessing the wisdom of business leaders will give Government the single point of contact it requires to understand the needs of firms of all sectors and sizes, and will give local civic leaders easy access to the views of industry on their doorstep.”
Chris Hearld, northern chairman for accountancy giant KPMG which is hosting today’s launch in Leeds, said: “For a number of months, in our conversations with those running businesses across the north, there has been consensus that the Northern Powerhouse is a business issue.
“The formation of Business North now demonstrates the appetite of corporate leaders to speak with one voice at the heart of the debate about maximising the north’s economic potential.
“It’s pleasing to be part of a business community taking the initiative to collaborate across the patch, engaging with the government and beyond to secure the prize of a business-led resurgence of economic growth, to the benefit of the wider UK economy.”
The launch of Business North comes just days after council leaders met as the Council of the North for the first time in Leeds amid growing recognition of the need to co-operate on major issues.
Ed Cox, IPPR North Director, said: “Our research has shown an unprecedented appetite amongst northern businesses for the Northern Powerhouse agenda but also a frustration that to date the opportunities to get involved have been limited.
“Business investment in the North will be critical to its long-term success and at present the rate of northern business investment in R&D is twice that of government.
“Businesses also understand that many aspects of economic growth depend upon more collaborative action between the North’s big cities.
“For all these reasons, northern businesses need a strong voice on the national and international stage – Business North is a vital development in facilitating collaboration and making sure that Northern prosperity is national prosperity.”
Among the first priorities for Business North will be to ensure the private sector’s views are fed into proposals being developed by Transport for the North - which brings together councils from across northern England - for the Chancellor.
David Brown, Transport for the North’s chief executive who will speak at today’s event, said: “Central to the Northern Powerhouse vision is transforming the north’s transport connectivity to create a unified, single economy.
“To achieve this, it is essential that the north’s transport network serves the needs of northern enterprise, connecting businesses, granting growing organisations access to a wide talent pool and allowing for the efficient movement of freight to make our region competitive on a global platform.
“Strong, fruitful engagement with the private sector is essential for Transport for the North in order for us to deliver on our ambitious vision.
“I’m delighted to be involved in the first meeting of Business North, a collaboration which allows business leaders to join together in making the case to Government for sustained investment in transport infrastructure.”
The Chancellor is expected to set out further transport plans in his March Budget.