Jerald Solis (pictured), Business Development and Acquisitions Director, Experience Invest, discusses the Northern Powerhouse strategy and the realities between this headline grabbing idea.
Boris Johnson’s opening few weeks in his new role as Prime Minister have been marked by a flurry of announcements and promises. Notably, he revealed his ambitions to reinvigorate the Northern Powerhouse project.
A term coined by the ex-Chancellor George Osborne, the Northern Powerhouse project began as a vision to fuel the economic productivity of the North of England, and in doing so, connect its cities and break down the North-South divide.
Five years on, there are many accomplishments to be proud of. But there is also a long way to go when it comes to supporting the North’s long-term prosperity.
Is Boris Johnson ready to face this challenge, and how can we expect him to address the obstacles standing in the way of the project’s progress?
The Northern Powerhouse today
The Institute of Public Policy (IPPR) North recently noted that five years on since the start of the project, there are 34,000 more jobs in professional, scientific and technical jobs, plus a further 54,523 jobs in manufacturing roles.
Employment has also increased approximately 7% compared to the UK average of just over 6%.
It also revealed slightly higher economic growth in the North than the national average, with a 10.7% rise during this same time period, compared with 10.6% for the UK as a whole and 9.7% for the UK excluding London.
With progress inevitably come obstacles, however. One of these is the current fall in the quality and reliability of transport in the region.
To offer a snapshot of the problem, almost one in every 20 transport services was either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late arriving to its destination in 2018-19.
Renewed investment into transport and infrastructure is therefore crucial to safeguard continued potential.
What can we expect from Boris Johnson?
Infrastructure is clearly at the heart of Boris Johnson’s agenda when it comes to breathing life back into the Norther Powerhouse project.
In fact, only a week into his new role as Prime Minister, Johnson revealed committed to grand plans to build a new rail line between Manchester and Leeds, while pledging to have a deal between local and central government for this line ready by Autumn.
While the approaching Brexit deadline casts a shadow over this timescale, the announcement itself comes as welcome news. Northern Powerhouse Rail would play a vital role linking the region’s major urban centres.
It is no secret that modern infrastructure and good connectivity are key pillars of development, and it must therefore receive the support of both the public and private sector.
Indeed, the private sphere has already been playing an important role in driving the quality of infrastructure within the North of England.
Private developers have been constructing new-build developments in high-growth cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, and by complementing this with clear government leadership and investment, we can ensure that towns and cities in the North can support the influx of homebuyers, professionals and investors looking for new opportunities.
On a bigger scale, Mr Johnson has promised to rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK, citing good public services, enough affordable homes and more responsibility and accountability for local areas among the pillars of success.
How this will ultimately be achieved remains to be seen, however, we might expect renewed investment into cities to ensure the core foundations are in place to support the region’s future prosperity.
Mr Johnson has also been called upon – particularly by business leaders – to kick-start a second wave devolution process to reinvigorate the Northern Powerhouse.
Their demands are fairly straightforward: they want to see powers transferred from Whitehall to elected mayors and local leaders, which would support the original vision touted by George Osborne and grant more power to the North to take greater control of their future.
Brexit will naturally overshadow domestic politics in the immediate months to come, but it is encouraging to note that even during such a trying time, Mr Johnson has placed the Northern Powerhouse squarely on his list of priorities.
It is hoped that through partnership with the private sector, the vision for the project will come to light and deliver even better results in the coming years.