EVEN THOUGH new transport links hold the key to George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse becoming a reality, the importance of skills training must never be under-estimated.
Unless school leavers have the qualifications and expertise that will enable them to prosper in a 21st century global economy, they will not be able to make the most of the opportunities that will be created if more businesses can be persuaded to invest in Yorkshire rather than London.
This was epitomised by the critique put forward by Ofsted chief executive Sir Michael Wilshaw who said the major Northern cities that helped to build Britain at the time of the Industrial Revolution are now failing to give many schoolchildren a decent education. Even though he was rebuking headteachers in Liverpool and Manchester for the serial under-performance of their pupils, his comments are equally applicable on this side of the Pennines where Yorkshire continues to languish at the bottom of those national league tables used to measure academic attainment.
Sir Michael’s comments are even more timely because they coincide with research undertaken by the Sutton Trust on social mobility and which reveals the extent to which the UK is still overwhelmingly run by privately-educated Oxbridge graduates who dominate politics, journalism, the military and the law. It does not end here – two-thirds of British Oscar winners were privately educated. Yet, while many will bemoan this state of affairs, this analysis should not discourage of students – there are plenty of examples of young people from Yorkshire overcoming humble beginnings to reach the top of their profession. That they did so was not just down to their teachers, but bucketloads of willpower. It’s a valuable lesson that must not be overlooked on the road to future prosperity.
Wakefield’s revival: Council thinks ‘outside the box’
EVEN though Wakefield and the surrounding area paid a heavy price for the decline of traditional manufacturing industries that were once the backbone of the area’s economy, this proud city deserves to be congratulated for the manner in which it is reinventing itself as a dynamic place to do business. Not only has the new Trinity Walk shopping complex galvanised the city centre so Wakefield can compete with Leeds and Sheffield, but the waterfront – once a symbol of decaying decline – is now emblematic of this region’s resurgence.
Of course this has been made possible by the presence of The Hepworth Wakefield, the art gallery whose presence on the banks of the river Calder is not only a vote of confidence in the city but also a magnet for future investment. The latest is ambitious plans to transform the adjacent Rutland Mills, which dates back to 1872, into the “creative hub” of the North.
The innovative role of Wakefield Council should not be overlooked. Even though it is not immune to the hardships confronting town halls across Yorkshire, Peter Box and his team had the foresight to create an exciting vision for the future before reaching out to the private sector for backing. Not only does this enterprise contrast with those self-pitying councils who still prefer to blame the Government for their plight rather than rolling up their sleeves and seizing the initiative, but it shows what is possible when local authority leaders do think “outside the box”. It’s just a shame that Wakefield’s leader would prefer to see Yorkshire split-up under the region’s devolution deal rather than the county following his lead and speaking, and acting, as one over inward investment.
Test of time: The canal pioneers who rose to the challenge
TWo HUNDRED years after the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was fully opened to power the Industrial Revolution, it is remarkable that this waterway has stood the test of time as craftsmen replace the massive gates at Bingley Three Rise Locks.
This man-made staircase for narrowboats, together with the nearby Five Rise Locks, remains testament to the ingenuity of those pioneering greats of engineering.
It’s just a shame that it is not possible for this approach to be replicated when it comes to constructing a 21st century road and rail network across the region. If it did, Yorkshire would not be in danger of becoming an economic backwater because of its sub-standard transport infrastructure.
That said, the canal remains – to this day – the best way to cross the Pennines. The views are stunning, and there are no leaves on the railway line or roadworks on the M62, to hinder progress as boats chug along at a sedate 4mph. It just takes time.