Industry leaders and politicians spoke with one voice at the launch of the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review in Liverpool on Thursday, endorsing continued momentum behind the North's plans for a cohesive programme of economic expansion.
Commissioned by Transport for the North and launched to business leaders and public officials from across the UK during Liverpool's International Festival for Business, the Northern Powerhouse Economic Review was undertaken to provide a clear picture of the economic landscape of the north of England in a national and global context and identify the major opportunities for economic growth.
Pointing to the current discrepancy between productivity in the North and the rest of the UK, and particularly London, the Independent Economic Review concluded that, with the appropriate investment and focus, the Northern economy could be transformed, with creation of £97bn and 850,000 new jobs by 2050. The sectors identified as being key world leading differentiators to drive this growth in the North were: digital technologies, health innovation, energy and advanced manufacturing. These – according to the report – should be complemented by enabling factors including education, logistics (encompassing transport) and financial and professional services.
While the report was concluded prior to the EU referendum on 23 June, leading speakers at the conference were undeterred by the potential impact of Brexit on the report's recommendations, asserting on the contrary that it made the need for recognition of the North's role in the economy even more important.
Tackling the Brexit issue head on, the commercial secretary to the Treasury, Lord O'Neill, said: "As the chancellor has said, the referendum result is even more of an instruction to deliver on our work to build a Northern Powerhouse and so it is hugely encouraging that the region's leaders are working together to set out their long term priorities." Though alluding to the fact that many major cities in the North, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle had voted to remain in the EU, he nevertheless intimated it was clear that many people living outside these conurbations were feeling disenfranchised. He said: "Leaders need to do more to listen to people who feel they are missing out in life. Those that wanted to leave the EU included some of the lowest productivity areas in the country."
His comments were echoed by James Wharton, minister for the Northern Powerhouse at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who said: "We are committed to bringing together the great cities and towns of the North to become a powerhouse for our economy. This review shows how this could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver a multibillion pound boost to the economy right across the Northern Powerhouse."
A pro-Brexiteer, Mr Wharton added in respect of the potential opportunity: "(There is) a much bigger world out there which wants to trade and work with our European partners; this will give us freedom to look further afield and to do more and I think that is exciting, particularly for many of the exporting economies that exist across the north of England and make up the Northern Powerhouse." Commenting on the role of transport, he said: "Part of this is the transport agenda and improving connectivity and agglomeration, recognising that if we can link up these economies they can be greater than the sum of their parts."
Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Lees said: "The prevailing economic uncertainty following the EU referendum result makes it even more essential that northern cities are given the tools and investment to work together to create the jobs and opportunities the region needs and help rebalance the nation's economy."
Transport for the North chair John Cridland was keen to assert that transport alone should not bear the brunt of delivering the economic vision for the North and highlighted, in particular, the role of education as part of the mix: "Transport is part of the transformation, but it can't and shouldn't be separated from education, innovation, entrepreneurship and export." Nevertheless he sees the report as being a major boost to the case for investment: "We have never had this before. We have never had a Northern economic plan within which to make the case for transport investment."
Reference: Transport Times, July/Aug 2016 Issue (Subscribe for the full length article)