'The Northern Powerhouse must be a thread running through Government policy' - Roger Marsh

In his LEP column for The Yorkshire Post, Roger Marsh OBE reflects on five years of the Government's Northern Powerhouse agenda

26 July 2019

Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, has written in The Yorkshire Post today.

I was pleased to add my support to northern newspapers’ – including The Yorkshire Post’s – calls for prime ministerial contenders from all parties to Power up the North.

It’s a no-brainer that the North should be front and centre of the future Government’s plans for UK prosperity and competitiveness beyond Brexit.

The North is home to nearly a quarter of the UK population and collectively we contribute around £300 billion annually to UK plc.

The harmful North-South divide – as damaging to the UK economy as it is to northerners’ life chances – persists, however.

I’ve spent over 40 years championing the North’s cause, throughout my long career at PwC and more recently as LEP Chair. For me the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda was an important turning point.

For the first time in my experience it made northern success a national policy priority. The opportunity of an empowered and fully connected North to be a centre of growth for the whole country was finally recognised.

There have been tangible successes in the five years since former Chancellor, George Osborne’s, Northern Powerhouse speech.

Transport for the North, on which I sit, has become a statutory body, putting us in a much stronger position to ensure the Government understands and responds to the North's collective vision for a better-connected region.

The Northern Powerhouse 11 (NP11), which I chair, is using the unique convening power of local enterprise partnerships to bring business and civic leaders together behind collaborative, pan-northern policies in areas such as clean growth, innovation, stronger supply chains, trade and investment.

And there is surely no better symbol of the optimism surrounding the North than Channel 4’s recent decision to locate its new national HQ in Leeds City Region.

As well as the obvious opportunities for our region, this gives us the chance to build a northern creative powerhouse – working alongside Media City in Salford to make the UK’s globally renowned creative and digital sector even more competitive.

Yet despite this progress, many are questioning how much difference the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda has really made.

If there is one criticism, it’s that over time it’s looked less like a coherent strategy and more like a label attached to a series of initiatives.

Such a piecemeal approach will not address the long-standing issues that have held our economy – and too many of our people – back for too long.

There is more that we can do as northerners to ensure that northern prosperity in the national interest is at the top of the Government’s agenda as we look ahead to a new Prime Minister and a future outside the EU.

Effective partnerships between the public, private and third sectors were central to us winning Channel 4 for the North. Now we need to build equally strong partnerships across the whole of the North – the NP11 and Power up the North campaign are both good starts.

As national government seems divided by major political and constitutional change, we must be consistent and united in our calls for northern priorities to be delivered, working to a common vision for northern success.

Partnerships can only go so far, however. We also need pounds, powers and firm promises from Government to realise our potential.

The Northern Powerhouse must be a thread running through Government policy, not an idea whose currency waxes and wanes depending on political circumstances. Giving the Northern Powerhouse Minister a Cabinet seat would be a positive first step towards this.

Devolution – which is critical to northern towns, cities and rural areas taking control of their own destinies – must extend to all parts of the North, especially Yorkshire.

And we need proper, sustained investment in both transport and economic regeneration. We are hardly going to narrow the North-South divide if Government spending remains skewed in favour of the South East.

To close our productivity gap, we must ensure the Government remains committed to delivering HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and much-needed improvements in local transport in full.

We also need assurance that the promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund goes beyond the project-by-project approach of current domestic and European funding regimes by providing long-term investment as a single pot, flexible enough to respond to local economic needs.

The desire to see the full potential of the North unlocked to rebalance the UK economy existed long before it became Government policy in 2014. But the five-year anniversary of Osborne’s speech is a reminder of how far we’ve come – and time to set out a clear plan for where we go next.


Local industrial strategies for northern success

The LEP is developing a local industrial strategy for Leeds City Region, which will focus on helping businesses become more productive, while also reducing carbon emissions and enabling everyone to feel the benefits of a strong economy.

Over the past few months, the LEP has been bringing together evidence on the City Region’s economic performance. We will shortly be testing this evidence base with local partners and businesses to make sure the strategy we ultimately produce responds to the right issues.