What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
“The Northern Powerhouse is a recognition of our region’s talent, innovation, history, ambition and expertise – and an acknowledgement how much more we can amplify all of these with the right investment in long-term projects, particularly skills and transport.”
Nine years have passed since the phrase 'Northern Powerhouse' was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
“We’re still seeing welcome progress, whether that’s under Northern Powerhouse itself, or what’s emerged through the broader church of ‘levelling up’ initiatives.
“Our own region, South Yorkshire, has just been confirmed as one of the UK’s new ‘investment zones’, set to receive an £80m boost in investment and tax breaks over the next five years. This could make a big difference to our local economy. But the challenge is making sure that it doesn’t inadvertently deepen inequality within our region, and that is able to deliver sustainable growth. This kind of investment needs to be a driver of long-term success; not a spark that never turns to flame.
“But there’s also still so much more to be done. And in some areas, it feels like we’ve lost momentum or missed opportunities altogether. This feels particularly true in transport. The cancellation of the Leeds leg of HS2, and the delay around the Northern Powerhouse Rail project are two stand-out examples.”
How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
“Metro mayors are outstanding champions of local communities’ interests and challenges. Their position means they’re close enough to the day-to-day, on the ground, to take an accurate measure on what changes, investments and initiatives will make real impact, and to engage effectively with stakeholders at a national and local level to make the right solutions happen.
“But as I said when I last reflected on the Northern Powerhouse project in this publication four years ago, their collaboration on major issues that span the North, and the country as a whole, is also critical.
“Recently, it’s been particularly good to see joint mayoral calls for more funding to support decarbonisation. Climate change affects us all, wherever we’re from, so joint action is a necessity. But our wealth of advanced manufacturing, research and technological expertise across the northern regions means that it also presents an industrial and economic opportunity for us – if we can work together.”
What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
“Investment in skills, particularly investing in local needs to match local demand and strengths.
“Unfortunately, skills gaps are still a major factor of our economic landscape. Narrowing these will boost productivity, drive output and spark innovation. There’s a real requirement for more support from national and regional government to support this, but we as businesses also have an important part to play by doing what we can to upskill our own teams. It’s something we’re committed to doing here at Parseq.”
Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
“The appetite is there for collaboration, but practical efforts are still sometimes hampered by regional connectivity issues. Hopefully continued investment in local infrastructure will make it easier for us to turn good intentions into good outcomes.”
How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
“We’re a Yorkshire-headquartered business that has sites in India, Bulgaria and across the UK, including a new office in Runcorn, Cheshire, that recently became part of our business through our acquisition of the TALL Group earlier this year. We support clients up and down the country, and work closely with the Department for Business and Trade as Northern Powerhouse ‘Export Champions’, exporting to 35 countries around the world. Greater connectivity within our northern regions, to the rest of the UK, and to our ports and airports is the first step to making it even easier for us to deliver our services to clients – many of which are time-sensitive.
“Meanwhile, continued upskilling, particularly in digital skills, will support our ambitions to continue to apply cutting-edge technology to help organisations digitally transform their processes, improve their operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience.”