It was back in June 2014 when the chancellor first mooted the idea of a Northern Powerhouse, an ambitious proposal to increase the connectivity of the UK’s northern cities and rebalance the economy.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Northern Powerhouse continues to make headlines, with a report release this week casting doubt on its long-term health. Data published the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted the continued difficulties of a number of cities across the north of England, branding them “cities in decline”.
It would be churlish to ignore the challenges we face, but headlines of the sort this report generated must not be taken as a doomsday prediction of the project’s future.
Ambitious plans like the Northern Powerhouse take years to come to fruition. Heavy-handed criticism will only paint an incomplete picture of what is achieved and undermine confidence in its potential to deliver. Who benefits from this?
While there is a clear need to increase prosperity across the North, we must not fail to recognise the great strides that have already been made. As highlighted by last year’s Beyond the City report, employment growth in Manchester and Liverpool will outpace that in Paris and Berlin over the next five years. This is something to celebrate.
Metropolitan mayors are an early and promising result of the Northern Powerhouse project. These men and women will take office from 2017 across cities in the north and will hold real power.
This political shake up is being matched by wider efforts to boost economic activity. The International Festival for Business – to be held in Liverpool – will build on the success of its 2014 predecessor. Two years ago, more than 600 companies secured export sales worth more than £80 million and hundreds of companies signed investment deals worth £200m thanks to the Festival.
Host city Liverpool, synonymous with the entire nation’s trading past, is forging a new future that is more vibrant, more productive and better connected with its northern neighbours.
It is critical that cities in the Northern Powerhouse develop their export potential by engaging with growth markets around the world. There is no clearer example of this than the current Liverpool Port expansion, which is enabling the Port to accommodate the worlds new generation of super tankers and, in doing so, extending its capacity by some 33 per cent.
A flourishing Northern economy will rely on increased investment in transport, enterprise and skills across the region – but this will have a national benefit.
A Northern economy in rude health is good news for us all. That’s why the Northern Powerhouse deserves the support of all those in favour of national economic recalibration.