North has to make its voice heard to revive the economy

Yorkshire and other northern counties must push for the creation of a Northern powerhouse if we are to revive the UK economy outside London, delegates were told at the Summit: The Future of Growth conference in London yesterday.

Entrepreneur Luke Johnson, left, with Jim ONeill, former Goldman Sachs chief economist, and summit host Michael Hayman in the foreground. Picture: Steve Howse

Speakers agreed that one of the biggest challenges the UK faces is an over-dependence on London, and the North must keep pushing hard to be heard outside the capital.

Jim O’Neill, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs, said that the population of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool now involves as many people as London.

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“I don’t understand why that hasn’t featured more by the coalition in this (election) campaign,” he told delegates.

“For those of you from these places, keep pushing these lunatic political leaders of ours post election.

“We need to promote growth outside London.”

Luke Johnson, the entrepreneur who made his fortune with Pizza Express, added: “One of the biggest challenges we face is over-dependence on London. The problem is not London. We somehow need to revive the rest of the country.

“We’ve got to rebalance the economy away from London.”

He added that job creation via large scale public sector start-ups is not the answer, adding that the North is dependent on entrepreneurs to create the next “titans” of business.

Summit’s host, Michael Hayman, the Sheffield-born co-founder of campaigning company Seven Hills, asked the panel whether the North/South divide has created a two-nation story.

Mr O’Neill said: “The improvement in education in London is remarkable and we’ve got to get that going in the rest of the country.”

Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University, flew the flag for South Yorkshire in his speech to the conference.

Showing delegates a picture of a Rolls-Royce engine, he said: “We are creating wealth, value and jobs in South Yorkshire.”

He called on politicians to invest in productivity and research and development to rebuild the infrastructure that has been lost as “an unfortunate consequence of privatisation”.

“We can rebuild it. We have built an eco-system in Sheffield – the University of Sheffield was supplier of the year to Boeing,” he told delegates.

Lord Malloch-Brown, chairman of SGO, raised the question of a “Brexit” – Britain exiting the European Union – and the impact it would have on the British economy.

“Americans like to centre their European operations in the UK. I’m very worried about a Brexit,” he told the conference.

It was a rallying call taken up by panellist John Cridland, director-general of the CBI.

“Most businesses want the UK to be a key part of a reformed European Union,” he said.

He added that if there is no quick decision made about the formation of the next Government and talks linger on for days, business will need “to come out of purdah” and remind politicians what is important – namely tackling the deficit, rebuilding infrastructure, promoting exports, and maintaining free and open markets to generate wealth.

Norman Pickavance, former HR director at Northern Foods and Morrisons and now an adviser to Ed Miliband, added: “I think the reason this election is so close to call is a profound lack of trust in politicians.

“We are no longer convinced anyone has any real answers and that lack of trust also applies to business communities.

“Only one in five believes any chief executive is telling the truth and trust in large businesses is now below 50 per cent.”

Lord Bilimoria, co-founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, told delegates that the coalition is not doing enough to make the British public feel proud.

“All I can see is negativity,” he said.

“I see the Labour party taking us back to the 1970s when Britain had no respect in the world.

“Manufacturing is alive and kicking... We are the best in the world. No-one is talking about that.”