The Northern Powerhouse: Still Alive and Kicking
As part of the Leeds City Region delegation at last week's MIPIM UK I had the opportunity to hear the current views on the Northern Powerhouse from five of the regions' key political figures.
Speaking in a panel discussion at MIPIM UK, each was asked to comment on the current Northern Powerhouse proposition, the impact of Brexit on the concept and aspirations for the Budget Autumn Statement.
In essence all are confident of the Northern Powerhouse as a brand – despite Brexit fears and changes in administration. The brand continues to attract attention from overseas investors as an area to do business – within Europe as well as globally. However this needs to be reinforced in the Autumn Statement and through the targeted allocation of funding for Northern Powerhouse projects.
Although the speakers were confident of their own positions, early and unequivocal support for the Northern Powerhouse from Central Government was requested and demanded.
So what is the Governments current position? Interestingly, just a few hours before the panel discussion, the Leeds City Region LEP hosted a dinner attended by the Northern Powerhouse Minister, Andrew Percy MP. Mr Percy was enthusiastic in his continued support for the concept, and was delighted at the ongoing dialogue and spirit of co-operation and co-ordination being exhibited across the Northern Powerhouse region. Hopefully, the evidence of the Leeds City Region's commitment to the Northern Powerhouse will translate into real and tangible budget commitments going forward!
The panel debate themselves raised a number of interesting themes around the core discussion areas:
Northern Powerhouse – Current Perception
Sir Howard Bernstein (Manchester City Council) identified that the Northern Powerhouse has had a strong narrative for a long time – but needed to continue to build on city synergies and inter-relationships.
Sir Nigel Knowles (Sheffield City Region LEP) agreed that north of England has been historically important irrespective of Northern Powerhouse branding. However he had concerns regarding changes in Central Government leadership and the pressure to divert budgets elsewhere. He maintained that delivery of HS2 and HS3 remain vital.
Nick Forbes (Liverpool) was confident that the northern cities would remain engines of growth and are economic drivers - but power is not evenly spread and this needs addressing. Nick confirmed the importance of the Northern Powerhouse brand to international investors – particularly in China and Far East – where it is held in high regard.
Joanne Roney (Wakefield) spoke regarding the Leeds City Region perception. Joanne considered the Northern Powerhouse as a brand to be well regarded – but if the constituent parts do not live up the brand and deliver as promised then the value will be lost – to do this all need to invest in the delivery aspects of the Northern Powerhouse now. This is not just the physical manifestation in brick and mortar but in people and skills.
Ged Fitzgerald (Liverpool City Council) said the Northern Powerhouse was there before the Northern Powerhouse brand. However he agreed there needed to be a further rebalance of power between North and South. The agenda and opportunities still remain.
Post Brexit Position
Sir Howard said he had heard the right noises from Central Government on the Northern Powerhouse proposition but these needed to be turned in to commitments on budgets to deliver HS2 and big transport interventions. Despite Brexit Sir Howard strongly asserted that Manchester would remain a European city!
Sir Nigel maintained that Northern Powerhouse is even more important post Brexit – but questioned Government commitment; the loss of George Osbourne as advocate was disappointing but the corporate business world continues to move forward and all need to do the same.
Post Brexit Nick Forbes noted that confidence is different across sectors – for example, the higher education sector is very fearful of Brexit exit – but we need to remember that economic activity is not bound by international borders – we continue to need strong links with Europe and rest of the world.
Joanne admitted that Brexit fears had dented confidence in certain sectors – for example the supply chain aspects of the automotive industry could be impacted by a hard Brexit and border issues. Therefore we need to focus hard on the UK supply chain, but there will be winners and losers, and there will be workforce supply implications.
Ged Fitzgerald stated that Brexit has created uncertainty but that the rest of the world is concerned and see it as a bit of local difficulty. Sovereign funds still want to get on with investment. Macro issues are important but opportunities remain – Central Government needs to get on with it.
All panellists agreed that funding needs to be put in place now to drive projects forward. Joanne was adamant that the Autumn Statement needs to provide targeted budgets now for Northern Powerhouse projects focusing on buildings as well as people. Ged suggested there was a danger that time and resources would now focus on Brexit issues at the expense of the Northern Powerhouse, and Autumn Statement should categorically support the Northern Powerhouse concept and provide a ringing endorsement of big infrastructure projects.
NJL Consulting opened its Leeds office in January 2016 on the back of the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Having heard what the various panel members had to say and the position of the Minister I am confident that the Leeds City Region will continue to be at the forefront of a continuing and strengthened Northern Powerhouse agenda going forward.
Should you require any further information on the Northern Powerhouse concept, strategy, projects or opportunities to invest across the area, NJL Consulting would be happy to assist. Our contact page is available here.
Images courtesy of MIPIM, 'cityscape' by Clare Black via flickr, and NJL's own imagery