Business Editor Mark Casci: Is the Northern Powerhouse to be just for the North West?

George Osborne speaking at a Northern Powerhouse Partnership event in Leeds earlier this month.
George Osborne speaking at a Northern Powerhouse Partnership event in Leeds earlier this month.
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Today marks the start of the Northern Powerhouse conference and I must confess I am preparing to attend with some considerable degree of trepidation.

Not because I do not like Manchester which is hosting the two-day event.



The business editor of The Yorkshire Post may be duty bound to champion his own county over our counterparts across the Pennines, and rightly so, but the reality is I have always liked the city and have great admiration for its sporting and particularly its cultural prowess.

However, I am worried about what kind of mood I will be in as I depart Manchester Central after a day of Northern triumphalism.

While ostensibly an event for the North I cannot help but worry that the host city and surrounding environs will take up much of the two day event’s subject matter. I am convinced that since the Northern Powerhouse concept was first uttered from the lips of the former chancellor George Osborne it has been Manchester that has embodied its spirit.

The notion has had its detractors, as political initiatives often do, but it cannot be denied that the prospect of an empowered north, with devolved powers over spending and taxes, was something our business community has coveted for decades.

However, there were rules laid down from the off, and Manchester has consistently played the game according to them.

A devolution settlement? Handed in quickly.

An elected mayor? Coming right up George.

Petty differences and squabbling put aside in favour of coming together as a cohesive unit? No problem.

I have written at great length about the failures in this county to make the same commitments as Manchester to this project and how the self-interest of a handful of politicians, some of whom were elected with paltry democratic mandates, is hampering our prospects and placing us at a competitive disadvantage. This weekend, on the eve of the conference, came proof that this is already starting to happen.

Figures from the IPPR North think tank showed that, as well as facing a North South divide, Yorkshire is now facing an East West divide.

Transport spending in our region will be £190 per head over the ensuing five years, as compared with £682 in the North West. And while London is facing an eye-watering £1,942 per person spend (a figure inflated by the Crossrail project) it seems clear that the Northern Powerhouse is already beginning to show winners and losers.

How anyone from Yorkshire could look at these figures and consider it a price worth paying to ensure their party’s short-term political goals are met is baffling to the point of ridicule. And so while some of our most eminent business leaders and political figures will be in Manchester today for the conference I cannot help but feel like we are going to be guests at someone else’s party.

On a far happier note, today’s edition of The Yorkshire Post contains two symptoms of how strong our private sector is at present.

The deal announced yesterday that Zenith is to acquire CVA for an undisclosed sum comes on the back of it being purchased in a £750m management buyout. The outlook for the company as a result of these two announcements looks very strong and, as one of our region’s top dealmakers Martin Jenkins – who helped spearhead the deal – says: “Its robust business model, quality of earnings and exceptional track record of uninterrupted profit growth meant the business was very attractive to both strategic and private equity acquirers.”

Take that together with our SME Top 100 supplement which showcases a wealth of innovative high-end manufacturers and we have some considerable proof that, unlike our transport network, our private sector is on the right track.