Parseq’s Managing Director, Craig Naylor-Smith, shares his perspective on the Northern Powerhouse including the single main issue which should dominate the agenda.
What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
“Put simply, the Northern Powerhouse is a shared ambition to deliver on the region’s incredible potential. We have a reputation for excellence and a wealth of expertise and experience in both traditional industry and emerging technology.
“The Northern Powerhouse project can help us capitalise on this heritage and unlock the skills and resources we need to compete on a global scale.”
Four years have passed since the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
“Some good progress has certainly been made. In our area, the Sheffield City Region, we’ve seen welcome investment in transport, housing, innovation and skills through Powerhouse-backed initiatives like the Local Growth Fund.
“To maintain momentum, we need to build on these successes and properly consider how best to practically implement big ideas with potential to transform the entire north of England that – at this stage – are still very much on paper.
“It’s good to see infrastructure remain on the agenda, for example, with the launch of Transport for the North and the plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) progressing – but without more detail on how these initiatives will be financed long-term they could falter.”
How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
“If the Northern Powerhouse ambition is to be realised, the region’s constituent parts cannot operate in isolation. Metro mayors have a mandate to represent their individual city-regions, but it’s been great to see them band together to champion causes that benefit the north as a whole.
“Joint calls for the government to match the £2.4 billion worth of EU funding we’re set to lose post-Brexit, so we can tackle pay and employment inequality, is a great example.
“If collaboration like this continues, we’ll get the best of both worlds – more targeted, local investment, and wider initiatives that address the challenges that reach across county lines, such as infrastructure and connectivity.”
What must the government do to re-energise the Northern Powerhouse?
“Devolving more powers to a local-level will help the north’s leadership drive the Powerhouse forward, but this can only go so far. If the ambition is to be truly successful, it requires the sustained sponsorship of central government, alongside wider measures to promote economic growth.
“A big part of this is encouraging inward investment. We’re seeing more and more global businesses, like Amazon and Google, choose the north as an important UK foothold, and organisations traditionally centred in London ‘north-shoring’ to take advantage of the vibrancy of our cities. Any measures that encourage this trend would be welcomed.”
What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
“The skills agenda. At Parseq we recognise the professional and personal development of our people is integral to our success, and we’ve invested more than £104,000 in training initiatives over the last 4 years.
“The north continues to face a very real skills gap. We live in an increasingly digital, technologically driven world, so addressing this is going to become even more pressing if the region’s businesses are going to be fully equipped for the future.”
Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
“The rhetoric associated with the Northern Powerhouse rarely forgets the communities that revolve around our metropolitan centres, but there is still less evidence of collaboration between towns and cities than we’d like to see almost half a decade after the phrase was coined.
“As a business based in Hellaby, South Yorkshire, regional infrastructure is a big issue. On top of the six million electronic documents we handle every year, we also receive and scan another six million pieces of physical mail annually. The improvement of road links between our site and the rest of the UK so these physical items can travel to and from us efficiently is a simple – but incredibly important – consideration for us.”
How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
“We’re a technology focused business that uses the latest innovations, including Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR), to help clients easily access and take advantage of the data in their back offices through greater digitisation.
“The development of our region’s talent through education – particularly in the form of programmes that support digital skills – will help companies like ours maintain a competitive edge.”