What an amazing place the north of England is. Beautiful, creative, resilient. It has a special identity, with a vibrant mix of culture, music, arts and sport; a rich history of creativity and innovation, and a diverse geography, at once urban and industrial, rural and agricultural.
But in order to grow and prosper further, the North will have more control over its future. This will happen if ordinary people have an emotional and practical way they can own the journey. And this is where the people fit into the Powerhouse.
Policymakers have a tendency to think about people in the abstract, focusing instead on “physical” outcomes, such as trains, roads and housing. These things are all vitally important, of course, but a skewed focus on business deals, transport and infrastructure without mention of people, skills or communities will not create the kind of North we all want to live, work or do business in. A step change is required on policy direction.
Economic growth is necessary, but it doesn’t always trickle down and benefit everyone in our communities. Let’s create a bigger conversation, a deliberative debate about quality of work and quality of life, and a Powerhouse for all of the North, not just the big cities, that improves life chances for those furthest from the labour market.
Last year, a group of us came together with this goal in mind. We didn’t wait for permission to get on and change things, we decided we can be the change, use our power and influence and do the right things. This how the People’s Powerhouse came to be.
The first People’s Powerhouse convention took place in Doncaster, and the level of engagement was overwhelming. Since then, many people have continued to tell us that they want to have a say and be involved. Together, these voices will help shape policy, delivery and change. The People’s Powerhouse is a platform for those who don’t feel they have a voice, where people can come together to support each other, and where we can create an energy to hold policymakers to account.
We’re positive about devolution and the opportunity it provides. But, for devolution to work, we must ensure a place-based approach, accounting not only for the importance of cities, but the wider region too. It’s about local empowerment, not just government power; devolution should mean that our different communities are recognised and celebrated, providing the opportunity for creativity and innovation to flourish.
Connectivity is key – it’s not about North versus South, dividing us from the rest of the UK, or the rest of the world. We have many common characteristics with other places and at a time of high anxiety politically, “separateness” will serve only to isolate us as a region.
Together, let’s aim for significant, long-term investment, local solutions, and a redesign of public services with people in mind. And let’s engage young people in the debate. Increasingly, we’re seeing younger generations become more disconnected and not making use of our political systems, and they’re also driven to cities when they should be able to thrive in their local communities. We must galvanise the voices of young people.
There’s a real movement for change building up. Tomorrow, people will come together in Bradford for our next convention. It’s about finding tangible ways to pursue growth and improve people’s quality of life. More people in the room means more diverse opinions. That makes for better conversations, better debates and better solutions.
We’ll be launching our charter at the event. It won’t be easy, but by setting out a vision to transform the fortunes of the North and its people, we aim to build a more inclusive, collaborative region, where a diverse range of local voices are included in local decision-making.
When it came to choosing a location for the convention, Bradford was a no-brainer. The debate should encompass views from across the region and value places that can be overshadowed by neighbouring cities. Bradford is a brilliant place – rich with industrial history and cultural heritage, with a great mix of rural and urban settings, and perfectly located in the heart of the North.
We’re all stakeholders in the future of the North, so let’s work together to create a North which works for everybody.
The People’s Powerhouse convention takes place tomorrow at the Northern Commercials Stadium in Bradford. Visit www.peoplespowerhouse.org.uk.
Edna Robinson is People’s Powerhouse chairman and chair of Big Life Group and Trafford Housing Trust.