Posted on 24.2.16 by Christian Mancier
The Northern Powerhouse has been back in the news this week in anticipation of a few up-coming, and eagerly anticipated, reports and an international Northern Powerhouse conference in a couple of days. In the next few weeks we expect to see Transport for the North publish its report on regional transport priorities and the National Infrastructure Commission make recommendations too. On Thursday this week Manchester will host the ‘UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference and Exhibition’ – almost as long winded as the concept itself!
Those are really the two things that sum up The Northern Powerhouse (TNP) agenda: transport and business. The hope is that if roads and railways are improved, which they need to be, then business and economic improvements will follow suit in a knock-on style. This in itself has its problems. TNP wants to better inter-city links not intra-city links; it assumes that everyone can pop to the train station in five minutes. Has George Osborne seen the traffic in Greater Manchester recently? One word springs to mind: horrendous.
It’s not just infrastructure that needs updating but skills and development too especially for the up-and-coming future talent. Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, laid into high schools this week saying education in Manchester and Liverpool is “going into reverse”. He said TNP will “splutter and die” if these concerns aren’t addressed and amended. Education certainly is one tool that can power and transform a region. Here in Stockport I work very closely with the Gander Careers Programme launched late last year which aims to bring Business and Education together, providing chances for mock interviews, work experience and insight presentations for college students. If TNP is to succeed, more innovative initiatives like Gander will help give students an insight into their career options going forward as well as equipping the next generation with the necessary skills to help business thrive.
TNP undoubtedly has good intentions at heart, but many are wondering now if it is all a load of spin and rhetoric with no substance behind it and is doomed to end up on the slogan scrap heap alongside ‘big society’ and the like. If you ignore the rousing, well-practiced words and look at the actual record, you’ll notice that not much has been done. In fact, contrary to this, according to Jennifer Williams writing in the Manchester Evening News, most northern councils (Manchester, Lancashire, Salford etc) are still trying to deal with severe cuts but a few select Southern councils – Surrey and Oxfordshire for example – are getting big bailouts.
How’s Manchester getting on currently?
All in all, Manchester seems to be getting on smoothly. This begs the question: Does Manchester need the Northern Powerhouse brand?
There are already plans for more devolution and an elected mayor in 2017 which will give the region much more control over its money usage. Money being dished out by someone in charge who actually knows the city and its needs, is a much better solution than it being allocated by Westminster.
Start-Ups, SMEs and The Economy
What about the figures now? Last year 14,500 businesses launched in Greater Manchester, one of the highest rates in the country showing Manchester off to be the hotbed of entrepreneurial talent that we know it to be. Start-ups and SMEs are often cited to be the lifeblood of any economy, because it’s true – one business created opens the door for 10 other businesses.
The demand for office space in central Manchester is metaphorically going through the roof. According to lsh.co.uk, the strong levels of demand are much higher than the five year average, but there are six major developments planned in Greater Manchester over the next 18 months which will hopefully supply the grade A office space wanted. Here’s a great interactive map of the key schemes and developments across Manchester and Salford.
To back all of this up, Christian Spence of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce says the economy is expanding at levels higher than those witness before the recession of 2008.
We’d say Manchester is doing pretty well on its own, but some of the other areas that are encompassed in TNP aren’t doing so well. In answer to the question, ultimately yes Manchester and the North does definitely need road and railway improvements. Better access to cities and places around the region will bolster the economy and attract further investment from which it is hoped there will be the creation of a positive feedback loop.
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