Why Northern businesses have a once in a generation opportunity - Tom Lees

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be keen retain his new found supporters in the North. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be keen retain his new found supporters in the North. Picture: PA
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The uncertainty is over.

We have clarity in the direction our country is taking and stability in government after a decade of knife edge votes and vulnerable majorities.

Thanks to many parts of the North turning blue for the first time in living memory, the newly invigorated government now also has significant interest in making the Northern Powerhouse a reality rather than rhetoric.

While our great cities perform relatively well for the North, they are actually still less productive than the national average. Many of our former prosperous towns like Barnsley, Scarborough and Keighley have in reality gone into a state of gradual decline with little interest shown from Westminster and our ruling class.

Devolution of powers and funding has started to make some marginal improvements to local prospects, but that needs to be radically accelerated. We cannot afford to waste another

generation’s talents. Northern business has often left Westminster to get on with it and merely accept decisions they make while moaning that they don’t care.

Business now has a duty to stand up for our region, find solutions and to shape the agenda over the next five years.

The London business community in particular has a long history of effectively coming together as a powerful force to pressure ministers for the things that will make a difference to

them and the capital’s economy.

We already know the things that will improve the North: improved transport links, better training and skills and most importantly increased innovation and R&D spending.

Today, just three areas of the UK – Oxford, Cambridge and West London – account for nearly a third of all R&D spending. Innovation boosts productivity which results in more high

quality jobs, higher wages and more exportable goods.

A terrific example of positive government intervention we can take from the USA is their Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). That small agency of a few hundred people

has been responsible for the foundations of the internet, GPS, Google Maps and autonomous vehicle technology.

In its manifesto, the Conservative’s pledge to create our very own advanced research agency. As a starting point we need to come together and secure it in our region. We need

to use our collective voice to help deliver transformational change for local people.

Businesses should no longer turn a blind eye to what Westminster is doing but use our new found attention to shape the future of our country and region for the better. Our MPs now

have a critical mass where they can really exert influence on the government.

With a lack of clear leadership in Yorkshire partly due to the ongoing stagnation of devolution, it falls to Northern business leaders to ensure that we do not become forgotten, that politicians understand what is holding business back and what will most dramatically improve people's lives.

We now have a perfect storm for the North to change. The EU referendum, the general election result, a different Prime Minister with a different agenda. It is up to us whether we

seize the once in a generation opportunity.

Tom Lees is the Managing Director of Bradshaw Advisory