Hakim Yadi: Powerhouse’ plan needs investment

EVEN a modest student of history can point to the powerhouses of the industrial revolution, Pressed, they will also be able to point to the importance of the connectivity between these great Victorian cities through railways and barges which contributed to their growth: it’s no accident that George Stephenson build the world’s first public railway line carrying passengers and freight in 1830 between Liverpool and Manchester – it was these cities that had the trade and the brains. London was only connected to Birmingham some years later.

Hopefully, that’s about to change. Announcements from George Osborne on building new fast train link,s and boosting trade in Yorkshire and across the North, is nothing short of a call to arms for a Northern Powerhouse.

This Government has finally recognised that the UK cannot hope to succeed on the international stage without a thriving North.

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However, while this interest in the North is welcome, we will require government investment if we are to achieve the step-change needed.

Decentralisation and more power for local government will not achieve this alone; the North needs to be pump-primed. You only have to look South to see why: London did not achieve its international status alone. If the Government wants a ‘northern powerhouse’, the aspiration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer during his high-proflie visit to Wetherby on Tuesday, it is going to need to invest.

If this renewed enthusiasm for the North is to be effective, the Government – local and national – needs to rally round with the business and academic community and identify several priorities.

Picking winners is not easy but I feel that there is one sphere of policy – health science – where a relatively small amount of investment could transform a cottage industry into the next industrial powerhouse alongside investment in transport (HS3), energy and materials.

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Critically, health science research and industry partners have the potential to address the £2bn budget deficit NHS England is facing.

The Government did recognise the role of this sector in the UK economy in 2011 with the launch of the UK Life Science Strategy and the Department of Health’s policy paper Innovation Health and Wealth. It is the North’s turn to deliver on this agenda, but it needs support.

The North of England is an interesting geography. Unlike the perceived physical proximity of the South East cluster made up of London, Oxford and Cambridge and often referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle,’ the North has never been perceived as one ‘cluster’.

This is a British phenomenon, driven by our small island mentality and is deemed absurd by our international competitors. In the US, for example, where there are two leading clusters in health science , the Americans don’t have any problem in flying the 11 hours between them. By comparison, the few miles between Leeds and Manchester seems a trivial distance.

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Indeed, our US colleagues know that Silicon Valley has 15 cities, over 30 universities and the core of the Valley can take an hour to cross on a good day.

If the UK is to compete on an international stage we need to embrace our quaint geography, creating the infrastructure and connections to work across and between our centres in co-ordinated networks.

To kickstart this activity in health science we have created the Northern Health Science Alliance, a new organisation that does just this and includes eight of the most research intensive universities (N8), the eight leading research active NHS Trusts and four Academic Health Science Networks in the North.

They are all working together in an area where 14.5m people live.

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Translated, that means the NHSA covers 1,000 life science businesses supporting approximately 38,000 high skilled jobs and includes many leading global life science research institutes.

The North has the opportunity to add far more to the UK economy in this sector if it is given the right government investment.

To kickstart the creation of a new ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ the north needs to secure government support for a number of national centres and pan-regional programmes that can act together to create the step change needed to move a cottage industry of successful individual research centres into a thriving powerhouse.

• Hakim Yadi PhD is chief executive of Northern Health Science Alliance Ltd