Mark Casci: Time to cast aside cynicism and embrace the Northern Powerhouse

Since first being coined the phrase Northern Powerhouse has been the target for more than its fair share of brickbats.

George Osborne during a visit to Drax power station on Friday as part of a wider tour of the region to champion the Northern Powerhouse.

While there was a broad welcome for a statement of intent to empower the north and rebalance the economy away from the South East, concerns immediately surfaced about the substance of the project and the political motivations behind it.

Since being set up by George Osborne when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer the Northern Powerhouse has evolved from being a concept which sought to position the north of England as a collective economic entity, emboldened by devolved powers and doing business on a world stage.

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Today it takes the form of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) and boasts its own staff and projects, a number of which are underway currently to identify how best we can capitalise on our strengths in areas such as advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital.

There will be no Yorkshire-wide devolution, says Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry.

It is clear from my conversations that support for the movement remains high.

Last Friday I attended an event at Siemens’ wind turbine blade manufacturing facility during which time some of the north’s leading experts in energy were on hand to talk about what they need to take their businesses to the next level.

In attendance was Mr Osborne in his capacity as chairman of the partnership, as well as Henri Murrison who is now director of the group and will be tasked with bringing all of the feedback these discussion generate so that it can take the next steps full of knowledge from around the region.

On the same day the NPP announced a major review into education and skills levels in the north of England

There will be no Yorkshire-wide devolution, says Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry.

It will undertake research and consultation across the north and will include the former Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

At its helm will be Manchester Airport’s managing director Collette Roche and its review will investigate “why educational attainment at 16 is so low across the region and how the demand from employers for technical and higher level skills can better be served”.

Currently 56 per cent of pupils attain five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths, across the north of England. In London this figure rises to 61 per cent.

During the session I attended Mr Osborne said the poor performance of many secondary schools in the region was a “perfectly solvable problem”.

“London had the worst run state education in the country when I was a child,” he said. “Through a sustained effort the London education system is now the best in the country. That was not some miracle, that was good hard work and a real plan and managed by successive governments of different colours.

“And we can do the same in the North of England. There is no reason why a good piece of work that says here is a plan for improving the skills of people coming out of our schools should not be implementing.”

Whatever you political persuasion it is hard to find fault with any of this, or with the current areas upon which the NPP is focused.

Skills is the number one concern I hear from business people large and small in Yorkshire. Work here is underway to address it.

Couple this with the fact that we still do have a Government minister focused on the Northern Powerhouse. Interviewed in today’s edition of The Yorkshire Post Jake Berry reaffirms his and the Government’s commitment to devolution to Yorkshire, with the minister urging Yorkshire to get on with the job of agreeing a settlement.

In times of such uncertainty and unpredictably I think it is time we started taking the Northern Powerhouse at face value and stopped looking to pick holes in it.

We have a real opportunity for empowerment and improvement here. Let’s not squander it.