Chris Hearld: Time for North’s businesses to take charge

Can the Northern Powerhouse become a reality?

Can the Northern Powerhouse become a reality?

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GIVEN the uncertainty created by 
the vote to leave the EU, and subsequent announcement that the country will soon have a new prime minister, it is more important than ever that the North gets a fair share from the public purse.

But there is no doubt that those running this region’s corporates should plan to conceive, convince and collaborate, when it comes to getting the Northern Powerhouse off the ground.

Here’s why: The concept of a Northern Powerhouse is absolutely an economic one, which instantly puts business, as the primary wealth creators, at the heart of the discussion. There’s consensus on this. According to IPPR North research, the strongest vision for the North, by nearly half the people they canvassed, was an economic one – a competitive North in a national and global economy.

This is why I am involved with Business North, a lobby group created to enable people leading corporates across the North of England to speak with one voice and so to be heard on key Northern Powerhouse subjects.

The business leaders who I have engaged with in this group represent bottom lines worth billions and are a collection of hard headed corporate types who are entirely rational investors when it comes to their time and money.

The fact they are interested in Business North gives substantial backing to the premise that the success of the Northern Powerhouse is very clearly related to success of the one million enterprises across the patch.

As we know, the quality of life here is second to none, but size and appeal matters in an increasingly global market.

To thrive in the future the North must secure the investment it needs to evolve into a single, powerful economic proposition, comprising cities, towns and countryside with individual appeal but which can operate as one part of a whole offering. The economics are weighted in our favour. Stimulating greater economic growth across the region, which is currently not fulfilling its potential, is the right thing to do for not only the North, but the whole of the UK. Our prosperity boosts national prosperity.

So that’s the macro answer as to why it’s important. This is aligned to improving business on a micro basis: When the regional economy is prosperous, many of our firms will benefit from a more interesting pipeline of opportunities; when connectivity is improved, employers stand to benefit from a wider talent pool and more efficient logistics; when the appeal of the region is stronger, our businesses will benefit from being able to attract more talent and consequently strengthen our growth prospects.

I lead KPMG’s Northern business. This represents revenues of more than £200m and is an employer of almost 2,000 people across five offices in Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We compete hard for a diversity of the UK’s brightest talent and we aim to secure exciting opportunities for them. As the Northern chair, and someone who traverses the North regularly, I see some limitations placed on my team’s success by working in a disjointed market. Equally I’m excited to consider the potential for boosting my business’s performance in a landscape that holds Powerhouse promise. With the right changes, I can foresee an environment in which the firm enjoys an invigorated opportunity pipeline, created by a turbo charge effect on flourishing businesses within dominating high growth sectors including tech, energy and advanced manufacturing.

Young talent will be drawn to our Northern offices as London to start their careers, confident in their ability to achieve at the highest level from a Northern base; in which my team is freed from the day-to-day geographical constraints on resourcing behaviour imposed by the lack of transport connectivity; and in which there is greater efficiency, with less unproductive time spent on roads and rail.

So, I was pleased to be involved in the launch of a blueprint for a ‘Great North Plan’ (greatnorthplan.com). This represents the building blocks of a long term economic strategy for the North, with the objective of driving the Northern Powerhouse to the right destination and inviting businesses to contribute.

Business needs to help shape the vision and this early stage plan can only help to clarify what it could mean for business if the Northern Powerhouse really were to exist. After all, according to someone far more eloquent than I: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Chris Hearld is KPMG’s regional chairman.

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