I have just returned from a tour of the “Northern Powerhouse” cities: Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield. While this is a trip that nearly all my recent predecessors as lord mayor have made, this programme had added weight following the country’s vote to leave the European Union.
It goes without saying that UK trade and industry must work together to ensure the best possible outcome for our commerce and communities. With this in mind, it was great to spend six days among the UK’s buzzing economic hubs in the North – as well as attending cultural and creative industries’ events in York and County Durham.
I spent considerable time with heads of businesses, universities and local government, exploring the support they need from the government, and the policies and investment that will deliver sustained, long-term growth to the region. This growth will be good not only for the North, but for the whole of the UK.
Liverpool, for example, is a critical gateway for this nation’s global trade. During my visit, I saw the Liverpool 2 port expansion scheme, which will double its container capacity. Meanwhile, Sheffield showcases the next generation of British manufacturing – as I saw at Castings Technology International and the Innovation Technology Centre.
It was also terrific to witness the world-leading research and development work undertaken at our premier universities – such as the remarkable development of graphene at the University of Manchester, and the development of “sensor city” at the Liverpool Science Park.
Following discussions on blockchain and distributed ledger research in Leeds, I am particularly interested in the future deployment of these technologies in order to enhance industries and public services across our country. Continued partnership between universities and industry will build a strong platform for innovative growth across Northern England.
Connectivity was a central theme of my trip, with every mention of the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, or HS3, met with enthusiasm in meetings with local business leaders. There is strong desire for the airport expansion question to be resolved swiftly too, and we welcome the chancellor’s confirmation that a decision will be taken this autumn – with the construction of a third runway at Heathrow being the overwhelming preference, as it will enhance global connectivity for businesses across our country.
The desire for connectivity goes beyond tangible infrastructure, however. There is, for example, huge business support for the rollout of high speed broadband, perceived as a “quick win” for business which will foster a new generation of high-tech businesses.
As lord mayor of London, the most heartening part of my visit was the genuine desire of the UK’s major Northern cities to work with London in ways that accentuate the individual strengths of each urban area, rather than trying to compete directly with each other. My overriding impression, which I will be reporting back to colleagues in London at length as well as to potential investors on my overseas trips, is that our Northern Powerhouse is growing, ambitious, and open for business, and is a vital component to the UK professional and financial services offer.