The resignation of Lord O’Neill as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury has raised more questions about the new look Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.
With the departure of George Osborne from the Cabinet, there were already doubts as to whether the Northern Powerhouse project, of which he was seen to be the principal sponsor and Lord O’Neill one of its key architects, was still on the agenda.
Mr Osborne has now resurfaced at the head of a pressure group by which he is seeking to keep the momentum going. It remains to be seen how effective this will be. Lord O’Neill may reappear in the running for Mayor of Manchester.
The IoD believes that a rebalancing of the economy by developing the Northern Powerhouse can be a major factor in driving much needed growth in UK GDP.
The IoD has been keeping the pressure on and it was reassuring to note the appointment of a new minister responsible for the Northern Powerhouse, albeit after a slightly ominous delay.
Further, in response to submissions from the IoD in the North, the Prime Minister has confirmed that she is personally committed to the Northern Powerhouse.
There has been a suggestion that policy will now be aimed at a more balanced approach, looking to support growth in all the regions of the UK. However, this is nothing new. The Conservative manifesto at the last election had a section on making the Midlands an ‘engine for growth’ immediately after the section on the Northern Powerhouse.
In supporting the Northern Powerhouse we do not need to argue for a lack of support to be given to other regions. The Northern Powerhouse would only benefit from the Midlands ‘engine for growth’ starting to roar.
There are enough key positive elements already in place in the North to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.
We have a diverse spread of industries, major centres for financial services, a big group of research-based universities increasingly working together through organisations such as N8, major centres of population, major ports and a transport network which, with the necessary work, can bring it all together. As we also know, the North is a great place to live given its natural amenities. The North is not the problem, it is the answer.
The Northern Powerhouse is also starting to become a brand recognised at home and abroad. But there is still a danger that it is seen as a brand without a product.
This is not helped by confusion over what constitutes the Northern Powerhouse: Is it infrastructure projects? Is it devolution? Is it cross regional collaboration? Perhaps it is all of these and, overall, it’s a state of mind. A belief in the ability of our people and our businesses.
The IoD across the North (I have very little difficulty in getting on the same page as my counterparts in the North East and the North West – and suggest all those with influence should do likewise) is looking to make business the hero. We are focusing on bringing together leaders in our key established and emerging industries and help to take their message to the world using the Northern Powerhouse brand, with the objective of adding £34 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
It is certainly very helpful if the government is still behind the project, but the future is in our own hands.