Full steam ahead for Northern Powerhouse
05th May 2015
BUSINESSES across the North are enthusiastically backing calls for more devolved powers as they embrace the 'Northern Powerhouse' agenda.
That is one of the early findings from research carried out by independent think tank IPPR North and supported by law firm Ward Hadaway into the attitudes of business to devolution and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ theme of harnessing the region’s economic potential.
Throughout the past month, IPPR North has been carrying out one-to-one interviews, conducting round table focus groups and inviting responses to an online survey to find out what companies across the North East, Yorkshire and the North West really think about the issue.
A wide range of businesses, from SMEs to major nationwide companies, have so far taken part in the research and made their voices heard.
A full IPPR North report on the issue is due to hit the desks of Ministers in the new Government within weeks, but initial results suggest that whilst some national business figures are cautious about devolution, business people in the North are embracing the idea.
Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, said: “There may be a degree of caution in general in the business world about English devolution, but it would appear that Northern businesses want to see the Northern Powerhouse go full steam ahead.
“During the course of our research so far, we have heard some strong arguments in favour of bringing economic decisions closer to the needs of local businesses to enable them to do more of what they are good at.
“We also heard some major concerns expressed about the economic dominance of London and the skewed public and private investment that seemed to cause.
“Far from being tentative about devolution and its potential effects, many of the businesses which we spoke to right across the North were enthusiastic about the idea and welcomed the prospect of regions being given a greater say in how they run their affairs.”
The initial findings have also flagged up some particular sub-regional issues. In the North East, businesses did express some concerns about much of the emphasis on the Northern Powerhouse being on Leeds and Manchester and the potential this had for those cities to dominate thinking and resources.
However, there was a feeling amongst North East businesses that the only way to counteract this was to get fully involved in the Northern Powerhouse agenda and to talk up the region’s strengths.
In Yorkshire and Humberside, businesses expressed some concerns about whether their local authorities were up to the task of dealing with the greater freedoms and responsibilities which devolution would bring.
However, the overall feeling was that Yorkshire and Humberside companies trusted their emerging combined authorities more than they did ‘the man in Whitehall’ when it came to addressing their business needs.
Despite Greater Manchester having secured a £2bn devolution deal at the end of last year, there remains quite a degree of residual mistrust towards Whitehall amongst North West companies.
A number of businesses in the region said they resented being treated like ‘tin-pot outfits’ by power brokers in London when in fact the North of England is home to some of the most cutting-edge innovation in the whole country.
Jamie Martin, managing partner at Ward Hadaway, which has supported IPPR North’s Northern Powerhouse research project, said: “Devolution and the Northern Powerhouse agenda has the potential to radically reshape regional economies right across the North and bring in some profound changes about the way in which issues such as transport, investment, skills and housing are dealt with.
“This has clear and important implications for every business in the North, particularly for one such as ours which has offices across the North, in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester.
“As a Northern law firm for national business, we have a real stake in the future of the North’s economies so we think it is vital that the voice of Northern business gets itself heard in the devolution debate, particularly as we stand on the brink of a new government.
“This is why we have supported this research report from IPPR North, which has a proven track record of influencing the direction of political debate on a national level whilst remaining strongly rooted in the North of England.
“It is encouraging to see businesses of all kinds and from locations right across the North have taken part in the research so far.
“The initial findings have already produced plenty of food for thought and we look forward to the publication of the final report, which should make for required reading for the new Government, whoever they may be.”
Whilst the round table discussions and one-to-one interviews have concluded, business people can still make their views on devolution and the Northern Powerhouse heard by filling in the online survey.