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Northern Powerhouse: Opportunity, Optimism and Outcomes by Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the LEP

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06 Oct 2015

A wise man once said “If you don’t have a plan for where you want to be, don’t be surprised if you end up somewhere else”. I’m reminded of this when I think about the Northern Powerhouse.

More than a year has passed since the Chancellor first announced the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative. The concept has huge potential but for me one critical question remains unanswered – what will success look like?

I’ve long argued that the North is not the problem, it’s the solution and I’m glad to see this view finally reflected in national government policy. If the North of England were a country, it would be close to the 20th largest economy in the world. The opportunity is there to become a second economic powerhouse to compete globally for the UK alongside London and the South East, and if we aren’t clear about what we want from this opportunity, there’s a risk in 10 years’ time that the Northern Powerhouse will not be on the road to delivering its full potential.

I believe we owe it to our children and grandchildren not to let this opportunity slip through our fingers. The Northern Powerhouse really matters. It has the capability to transform millions of people’s lives – not just in the North but nationwide if our collective economic potential is fully unleashed.

As someone born and raised in Teesside, who forged a career, future and life in Leeds, this is personal to me. I was sponsored by British Steel to go to university and well remember the Redcar steel works being commissioned.  The now almost certain closure of the Redcar plant does demonstrate the extent to which our economy is affected by global economic conditions. The influence we can have can be limited but with a clear and compelling strategic vision for the North, could we invest in those industries where we have world-leading skills and capabilities so that they can help us meet the challenges of a 21st century world?

Yes, the North’s success means something to me personally, but as a Chartered Accountant by profession, I can see that it also makes sound business sense. In Leeds City Region, we’ve defined success as an economy that benefits local people, delivering not only more but better jobs, pays for itself and contributes to overall UK prosperity.

Productivity is a big challenge for our country and an even bigger challenge for the North. But we have 109,000 businesses here in Leeds City Region and by helping those businesses become more productive we can accelerate growth across our economy.

For example, if we increase exports in the region by just 10% we have the potential to add more than £1bn to the regional economy per year. Unlocking the full investment potential of our Enterprise Zone could add in excess of £1bn. Bringing new investment into the region from growing international markets offers significant growth potential, and up-skilling our workforce – creating more of the better quality jobs that offer real prospects for local people – could grow the economy significantly.

But that is just my view. You also have an opportunity to shape the debate and I would like to start a conversation with you, the readers of the Yorkshire Post, about what a successful Northern Powerhouse looks like to you. 

We have started the journey to reinvent our economy, but the deindustrialisation of the North over the last 30 years cannot be fixed in 30 minutes. To take the next step, the North needs to work collaboratively to create a radical vision for extraordinary but sustainable good growth that we can all share in.  

As a proud northerner, I would like to look back in 10 years’ time and know that we are well on the road to economic transformation. Our country’s success is built on northern industry, imagination, innovation, but above all determination – let’s come together to build its future with absolute clarity as to where we want to be and our contribution to driving down national debt, rather than perhaps leaving it to chance that we will end up where we hope to be.