Roger Marsh: Potential of the Northern Powerhouse is being unlocked
There have been a number of conferences in recent weeks about the Northern Powerhouse and the actions we can take collectively to realise the North’s potential.
These events are helpful in discussing the key challenges and opportunities the North needs to address to promote economic and social transformation.
What’s missing regularly from the narrative though is agreement about what a fully realised Northern Powerhouse looks like.
This is the question my fellow northern local enterprise partnership chairs and I have been tackling in our meetings as the NP11 (Northern Powerhouse 11), which was established by Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, last year to work with Government to deliver on the Northern Powerhouse ambition.
If we can agree this collective vision, it becomes that bit easier to bring together the right ingredients – like a strategic transport plan for the North, skills investment for the future and increased trade and investment – into a recipe for northern, national and international success.
The prize the NP11 is working together to seize is that of a northern economy that is an overall contributor to national economic growth, creating opportunities for everyone to enjoy a good life while also acting as a powerful economic centre that drives the UK’s competitiveness after Brexit.
In business parlance, a North that is a profit centre, not a continuing cost centre, for UK plc.
The Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda has been a boost to the North. That the North is a place of enormous economic potential is now accepted by Government and business alike.
It’s also shifted the narrative around the North away from pleading to leading – as the conferences of the past two weeks have made plain.
However, despite this justified optimism, the North does face a number of inconvenient truths.
Our productivity rate lags behind the rest of the country – which itself falls short of our European and other competitors; we still receive more from the national purse than we put back in; and the benefits of our resurgent economy are still not shared by everyone – particularly in those areas where stubborn deprivation persists.
These are the issues the NP11 is working together and with Government to tackle.
We are also making the most of our convening role to bring together all of the people and organisations which, individually, hold some of the pieces of the puzzle.
By working together, we can extend that convening power across the whole of the North – urban, rural and coastal – achieving an even bigger impact than we are already as individual LEPs.
The areas we’ve identified where we can make a major impact as the NP11 are: increasing our share of trade and investment by going to market together as the Northern Powerhouse; better integrating our supply chains so that our manufacturers in particular – still an outstanding northern strength – can compete for a greater share of business; and increasing the innovation capacity of the North by pooling our combined assets.
We are also exploring how we can repurpose the energy assets which powered the Industrial Revolution to fuel the UK’s clean growth revolution; helping the country meet its climate obligations as well as creating economic and social opportunities.
Our aim isn’t to replicate the same activity across the North: it’s about making the most of our distinctive and diverse strengths so that the whole is that much greater than the sum of its parts.
Indeed we will still have our own local industrial strategies for our individual LEP areas to address those issues and opportunities that are specific to our places.
No doubt we will continue to maintain healthy competition in some areas too.
Our maturing relationship as LEP chairs however was on show last month as we spoke with one voice as the NP11 at the Council of LEPs, chaired by the Prime Minister.
It is this unity of purpose, focused on a clear vision for success, that will ensure the North takes control of its own destiny. With Brexit we are at an unprecedented juncture. The future is ours to shape; and for UK plc, the North is the solution for decades to come.
A One Yorkshire conference is taking place in Leeds on March 8, bringing together leading national and regional figures to help set the post-Brexit agenda for Yorkshire.