I FEEL like I know a thing or two about winning. I had the good fortune to spend my entire footballing career during the two-and-a-half decades of visionary management from Sir Alex Ferguson, which established my team Manchester United as the leading club in the country, if not the world.
While that might stick in the throats of many of you on this side of the Pennines, the relentless pursuit of excellence and fulfilling potential is admired by fans all over the country and the world.
In my life after football, I want to apply those same principles to improving the lives of young people in Greater Manchester and right across the Northern Powerhouse.
Creating an economy that works for everyone by investing in the North, stimulating growth and creating skilled jobs, seems to me as not only crucial but morally right.
Linking up the great cities and towns of the North so that they can join together to help rebalance the economy and create a North greater than the sum of its parts is something we can all get behind.
Class of 92
This is why I, along with my former team-mates and friends Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and my brother Phillip, am setting up UA92 in Trafford, a university academy that will deliver alternative and diverse skills to those from economically-challenged backgrounds.
This will be a game-changer for higher education, providing expert and tailored tuition in the worlds of media, business, sport and psychology.
We want to deliver more than a degree. It is about teaching life skills preparing students for the modern careers and the personal and vocational skills they will need in an ever-changing world of work – ensuring the next generation are equipped with the skills they need to tackle jobs of the future is our overriding priority.
UA92 will, I firmly believe, address one of the major barriers to tackling the North-South divide; the significant and persistent education gap. However, there is another major challenge that needs addressing before the Northern Powerhouse vision can become a reality – transport.
The chaos on our railways witnessed this summer has been completely unacceptable. Right across the North, commuters were unable to get to work – forcing some of them to look for new jobs or risk getting sacked – families could not get to social events (including football, of course) and our businesses lost tens of millions of pounds in lost productivity.
The North’s companies can ill afford this loss of revenue. The principle of the Northern Powerhouse is an economic one – we have great cities so close together and if they were truly connected they could have a dramatic effect on the UK economy.
This is not a political project, it’s an economic one that affects us all. We all want better jobs, better schools, better transport connections – it can transform lives. This is why I believe Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is a scheme that can truly make a difference across the North. Connecting up the cities and towns in the North with fast, efficient, reliable, spacious trains will be transformational for commuters, families, tourists and businesses alike.
Jobs and social mobility
But it’s more than that. Better connecting places means more access to jobs, more access to higher education and the opportunity for some of the North’s communities to reverse decades of decline.
Born and bred in the North, I have seen first-hand how the loss of traditional manufacturing and industry has affected many of our towns and cities. Our major cities, like Leeds and Manchester, may now be booming, but many other places are yet to truly recover from the loss of the industries that made them renowned around the world.
Connecting HS2 with NPR can give opportunities to young people right across the country.
Take Bradford, the UK’s youngest city. Currently it takes more than an hour to get to Manchester, and even takes 20 minutes to get into Leeds. With NPR, that becomes 20 minutes to Manchester, seven minutes to Leeds.
Young people looking for further education options, training or jobs could travel much more easily to Manchester or Leeds, widening their options. If Liverpool can be connected to Birmingham in less than 40 minutes, it opens up the whole of the West Midlands labour market for Northern businesses.
But let’s focus on immediate priorities – we need to sort out our trains here and now. The answer is simple – let the North run the North, for the North. Transport for the North were established to take control of the railways of the Northern Powerhouse – the Government must allow to them to do this job and allow our elected mayors and council leaders to play major roles in how trains are run up here.
Fares, frequency, franchising – all of this should be devolved from government to the North.
Better transport links can unlock so much – education, skills, productivity; all of the things the Northern Powerhouse so desperately needs to improve. We need to come together as a region – businesses, politicians, communities – to make the case for investment. I know a thing or two about working together as a team and presenting a United front.
It’s time the North did the same to secure the future we all deserve.
Gary Neville is a former England and Manchester United footballer and the co-founder of UA92. He’s also a supporter of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.