Back HS2 now and don’t let the Northern Powerhouse suffer a power failure on its fifth anniversary – Yorkshire’s CBI chief Beckie Hart

THIS Sunday – June 23 – marks a significant anniversary in British political history. No, not that one: it’s five years since George Osborne, in a speech at Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry, first coined the phrase “Northern Powerhouse”.

The Angel of the North has become a symbol for the Power Up The North campaign.

In that speech he said that the Powerhouse “means jobs and prosperity and security for people here over future decades”. This is something that the CBI backs wholeheartedly.

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The Northern Powerhouse is the ambition to bring together the great cities, towns and rural communities of the North of England to become a powerhouse for our economy.

George Osborne, the then Chancellor, launching the Northern Powerhouse on June 23, 2014.

We will achieve this with modern transport links, a revolutionary new style of governance and increased investment. But, to be frank, the Powerhouse right now is facing a power failure. That is not down to us – it’s down to government.

I am proud of what we have delivered but the ball is firmly now in the Government’s court. This is why I want to pay tribute to the campaigning newspapers throughout the North like The Yorkshire Post. It would not be as high up the political agenda without their work. The CBI stands proudly alongside you. Our region deserves a better deal.

CBI regional director Beckie Hart wants the next Prime Minister to show greater commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.

The Power Up The North manifesto from 33 Northern papers, released last week, shows real appetite for change and growth – what we need now is a new partnership between business and the next Prime Minister that delivers.

We all stand ready to help, we just need real leadership and real action. But I think while we talk a lot about infrastructure and that is important, we must talk more about education and critically skills.

Skills shortages still starve firms of vital talent, and our successful manufacturers are struggling with burdensome business rates.

George Osborne - the then Chancellor - launched the Northern Powerhouse agenda five years ago.

All this must change. The Government are saying the right thing, but not doing the right thing and, pardon me, but I’m sick to the back teeth of it.

Enough is enough.

CBI research released this week to tie in with the Powerhouse anniversary shows how critical it is to bridge this skills gap for our region. It will boost productivity and stimulate our economy.

CBI data shows that almost two-thirds of Yorkshire and Humber firms say limited access to labour is a threat to competitiveness, while 88 per cent of the region’s firms reported they are struggling to access the skills they need to succeed.

Rail improvements are a key plank of the Power Up The North campaign.

Some 33 per cent of people in the region are educated beyond the equivalent of an A-level and above qualification compared to 53.1 per cent in London. We need to close this skills gap to make sure we power ahead.

These figures paint a worrying picture that threatens to give the Northern Powerhouse a major power shortage. Reversing this trend means plugging the skills gap that is hampering the Northern Powerhouse.

I recently met a technology business in Yorkshire who had to open an office in London because, in their words, they needed to access to a greater skills market. We need to turn that around.

Yorkshire is full of brilliant, talented and fantastic people, we need to give them the help and skills to let them thrive. Education usually comes down to cold hard cash but we must do things like fixing the broken careers advice system to allow every child to get good advice about their future pathways.

Business and the Government need to champion the flexible labour market on which our economic strength relies, to ensure investment continues to flow in. While employers continue to invest in their people and give them training opportunities, firms still need access to skills and labour from the EU and further afield to succeed.

Take HS2 as another example. While we watch the Tory leadership parade from afar, we see some of the candidates for the next Prime Minister waiver in their commitment to this totemic project.

My message to them is pretty clear: your support must not flounder or stall. We all must unite to deliver HS2 in full, and we urge the candidates to join us by offering your vocal and unwavering support. Help make HS2 happen for everyone, and help us all achieve our full potential.

To our next potential Prime Minister I say – back it, build it, benefit from it. These big projects will allow us to unlock a generation of talent and skills that will set up our region up to be a real engine for growth.

We urge the Government to re-state its commitment to Northern Powerhouse as a matter of priority. But more than that, back those words up with deeds. Without it, the vision for a genuine Northern Powerhouse to rebalance our country’s economy and make UK plc prosper for decades to come cannot be delivered. It is time for Whitehall to deliver.

Beckie Hart is the regional director of the CBI business organisation.