Invited to the Forum for the Built Environments networking breakfast for “Lancashire’s Place in the Northern Powerhouse”, I jumped at the chance to attend. Guest speakers included The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Leader Councillor, Jennifer Mein, Blackpool Council’s Director of Place, Alan Cavill, and Lancaster City Council’s CEO, Susan Parsonage, amongst others.
It’s a year into the government’s proposal to spread the economic weight of commerce across the UK, so I was curious to hear from these influential figures within regional councils what impact the proposal has made within construction. With the vision’s main ambassador, George Osbourne, having now left the Cabinet, I was also keen to hear how regions plan to move forward without this key figure at the helm.
The Northern Powerhouse held a full economic review earlier this year. The resultant report pointed to a strong increase in manufacturing innovation within the North. Confirmed by a later ONS report, it highlighted that a digital industry is booming in the North West when compared to other regions. Additionally, Lancashire is now regarded as the fourth global leader within the aerospace industry, (first largest in the UK), and with over 50 major construction projects ongoing in the region, it has four enterprise zones which have proven to be hugely successful.
Something that Lancashire Council is doing well is working in union, as a “mother”, to its 15 collective councils – this has not happened by chance and is something that smaller councils around the area can work together on, thereby increasing effectiveness.
A common theme from all speakers was the need for public and private firms to work more collectively in further creating the ideology of a Northern Powerhouse. It is often seen from the public sector that developers, contractors and the like will always plump for the easier option. Rather than taking the bold step of regeneration in a less “sexy” area in the North, the private sector will always have their heads turned by the more leafy areas, where investment is already rife.
Furthermore as a region, we need to recognise that the North is an attractive place to start a business and attract fresh recruits. It boasts some of the top universities in the country (from my experience, this is certainly true of construction, innovation and science), the area is rich in culture, it has a high visitor economy, the scenery is beautiful when compared to other regions and the cost of living is still impressive when compared to the South East. Companies need to make more of these facts – shout them from the roof tops, make people aware that there are other attractive options other than being a young professional living within commuting distance of London.
The speakers all agreed that Manchester is extremely good at self-promotion. Even if a project goes far from swimmingly, it is good at making sure people know what the city is investing in and that it is constantly evolving. Other towns and cities need to follow suit.
With the success of Sheffield and Manchester, devolution is a word that has been doing the rounds for a couple of years now. The speakers at this event pointed out that this had not occurred through overnight acceptance. The ten boroughs that make up Manchester, by way of an example, have been working for over ten years to get to the stage they are at.
Sitting in the auditorium for a couple of hours, it was evident there is a collective hunger to carry on driving the Northern Powerhouse. To make it work, there needs to be an openness and cooperation from manufacturers and construction companies. Great concept and potential and something that can carry on making waves. Fingers crossed.