As we contemplate our recovery, the North’s rich cultural and heritage assets can play a pivotal role in building a fair, green, and strong future economy.
Budget 2021 was one of the most important in our nation’s history. As the Treasury begins to chart our way out of the downturn, the Chancellor must draw upon the full power of the North to pull off the greatest economic rebound in 300 years.
It will be pivotal that any national plan goes hand in glove with the work of LEPs and local bodies, to ensure that we unleash the unique contribution of our rural communities, towns, and cities.
The North has a strong sense of identity, proud people, and phenomenal natural assets. Our towns and countryside are home to some of the nation’s most stunning natural environment, boasting five of England’s 10 National Parks as well as 270km of incredible coastline.
Meanwhile our cities are world renowned for their arts, heritage, and cultural offering. Pre-pandemic, these industries generated around £4bn to our region’s economy and employed nearly 17,000 people.
Over the last 12 months, Ministers have repeatedly reiterated their commitment to the ‘levelling up’ agenda, pledging to undo the damage of the pandemic and provide additional infrastructure investment.
Whilst these commitments are welcome, the Government should stay clear of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to ‘levelling up’.
The North is not a singular place, but rather a diverse region comprising vibrant metropolitan cities, historic mill towns, idyllic countryside, and coastal towns. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) strive to work closely with local MPs to adhere to the requirements of each diverse community – each of which has their own challenges, as well as their own capabilities to contribute to the economic recovery.
Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle certainly require a different approach to that of Dewsbury, Chorley, and Workington, while coastal and rural areas will require a different approach again. Therefore, the success of the ‘levelling up’ agenda will be dependent upon a tailored, targeted and ultimately ‘levelled’ approach to utilising the power of our places.
For example, many of our rural communities and towns continue to be without high-speed broadband connection, and ending this digital disadvantage must be a first priority.
Businesses no longer need to be located in a city centre to be fully operational. However, as we usher in this new era of remote working, fully functioning broadband connectivity continues to be lacking in many of our communities, hindering their progress.
Attracted by our region’s lower costs and outstanding quality of life, the pandemic has accelerated ‘north-shoring’, establishing the North as a destination for business. Cross-Northern collaboration will be critical to amplifying our investment opportunities and ensuring our region is investor friendly.
Paramount to this is a highly-skilled labour force equipped with the resources to work in a modern economy. York and North Yorkshire LEP has worked in partnership with the NP11 to establish SignedUp Skills, a comprehensive resource for training and employment opportunities. This service brings together Northern LEPs to equip communities with resources for a post-pandemic economy.
Our recovery must also act as a catalyst for improving the happiness and wellbeing of the nation, and the North can play a pivotal role in making this a reality. The strength of our diversity means we can draw upon these world-renowned industries, to establish the North as both economically and socially attractive.
However, many of the same sectors which can propel the nation to recovery have suffered greatly. The hospitality sector, along with our heritage and arts institutions, have been decimated, particularly in areas with a significant visitor economy.
Investment in culture and heritage institutions – which has been historically much lower in the North than in the South East – is needed.
The Chancellor has pledged £300m to extend the Culture Recovery Fund and an additional £90m for cultural bodies. This investment is welcome, but the North will need appropriate targeted funding to create a level playing field. These sectors aren’t just economically critical, but also make a massive contribution to our quality of living and environmental ambitions.
The 11 LEPs from across the North have been working to promote, protect, and develop the legacy of cultural assets as part of our recovery strategy.
In return, Government needs to recognise the economic and social contribution of these sectors to the North and provide a national strategy along with targeted investment to fully utilise them in the recovery.
In particular, the North is at the forefront of the UK’s response to the growing climate emergency – transforming our significant energy assets to drive clean growth revolution for the benefit of the environment, our people and the UK economy. Our capabilities, energy infrastructure and location mean the North is ideally placed to lead the UK’s ambition to become carbon net zero by 2050.
The financial crisis is forcing the Chancellor into tough economic decisions, as he attempts to kickstart the economy and rebalance the books. In doing so, he must avoid the temptation of judging the ‘levelling up’ agenda as an optional add-on or one-time initiative. Rather, the North has the economic prowess to be his greatest ally and asset in our national fightback, but only with continued and sustained support.
* David Kerfoot MBE DL is the former chairman of the York and North Yorkshire LEP.
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