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More work needed on Northern Powerhouse, say businesses

MORE joined-up thinking, proper resources and an independent figurehead are needed to make the idea of the Northern Powerhouse a reality, according to Yorkshire businesses.

Attendees at a special dinner organised by law firm Ward Hadaway’s Leeds office made the call after hearing a presentation on the Northern Powerhouse by Ed Cox, director of influential think tank IPPR North.

Ed told the gathering of business and civic leaders that there had been a lot of recent progress on the Northern Powerhouse agenda including the “un-pausing” of the electrification of the TransPennine rail link and a devolution deal to transfer funding powers to the Sheffield City Region.

However, he said Chancellor George Osborne’s approach of investment in transport infrastructure coupled with greater devolution for local areas to reinvigorate the North’s economy needed business to play its part in order for it to succeed.

Ed said the 38 different devolution bids from local authorities across the country left the Government facing “devo disarray” and called on business leaders to make their voices heard in the debate.

He explained: “Businesses across the region at times need to knock political heads together in order to move some of these processes forward.

“I think we need something like a Business for the North body that can speak for businesses across the North of England.”

Attendees at the dinner were enthusiastic about the idea of a Northern Powerhouse but wanted to see greater evidence of the Government’s commitment and more organisation to take the process forward.

Robert Sykes, Chairman of Sherwood Energy Limited, said: “The Northern Powerhouse is a great idea, but I don’t believe there’s particularly joined-up thinking behind it and I don’t see a dedicated budget for it.

“If you’re going to announce something in business, it is fully costed and has a budget but I don’t see that with the Northern Powerhouse.

“I also don’t think that it should be politically led. What is required is a Business Tsar-type figure, someone who is independent and has real business gravitas, but is non-partisan and can pull it all together and prevent the sub-regions fighting each other.

“I think Ward Hadaway are to be congratulated for organising what was an excellent and thought-provoking event on an issue of great importance to Yorkshire and the North.”

Andrew Weaver, Chief Executive of regional housebuilder Strata Homes, agreed that leaders and a better structure needed to be found to head up the drive to boost the North’s economies.

He said: “We need figureheads and catalysts who can make things happen and it’s got to have the right structure before you start.

“If I saw some more joined-up thinking taking place I would definitely get involved because as a Yorkshire business, we would want a stake in that future.”

John Sutcliffe, Finance Director at property developer Henry Boot Developments Ltd, said: “I think it needs a strong business community to point people in the right direction on this. Transport and skills are absolutely the right areas for business to get involved in.

“This was a really well organised event from Ward Hadaway which provided plenty of food for thought.”

Roger Marsh, Chairman of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “The central question for me about the Northern Powerhouse is around trying to understand what success will look like – in 20 years’ time, what will represent success on an economic and a social level?”

Ward Hadaway, which has offices in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, organised the Northern Powerhouse dinner after supporting a report from IPPR North into business attitudes to the Northern Powerhouse earlier this year which revealed enthusiasm amongst businesses for greater devolution

Jamie Martin, Managing Partner at law firm Ward Hadaway said: “The Northern Powerhouse has the potential to make a real difference to the development of economies and businesses across the North and it is a real talking point amongst companies.

“As a Northern law firm for national business, we wanted to help stimulate and inform the debate about the Northern Powerhouse and how it could change the economic and political landscape.

“However, as the reaction to this dinner has shown, businesses are sceptical of the motives behind the agenda and have concerns about the way in which it is being progressed.

“A lot of questions remain which politicians would do well to address if we are to realise the potential of the Northern Powerhouse.

“Nevertheless, it is clear that businesses are willing to engage with the process and are prepared to play their part in helping to make the idea of a Northern Powerhouse into a reality.”

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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