Place NW at MOSINorthern Powerhouse Debate21/07/15

Northern Powerhouse: Leaders outline progress and ambition [GALLERY]

Northern PowerhouseSir Richard Leese and Cllr Sean Anstee, leaders of Manchester and Trafford Councils respectively, this week provided an illuminating insight into the emerging Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Speaking in front of 250 guests at a breakfast debate organised by Place North West and Remarkable Engagement in association with Bilfinger GVA at the Museum of Science & Industry, Sir Richard revealed that he is trying to bring civic leaders from across the North to meet the Government ministers responsible for Northern Powerhouse to create an economic narrative that will sell the Northern Powerhouse across the world.

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Sir Richard noted that linking up cities across the North would effectively double the labour market, pointing out that “if the North speaks with one voice, we will get the investment we need.” He added that such joined-up investment can elevate our cities from regional to international significance.

Cllr Anstee, who holds the Greater Manchester skills and employment remit at the combined authority, focused on the need to boost productivity. He explained that with Greater Manchester recording above the national average for job growth, if it can capitalise on that with higher-wage jobs the city region will be in a much stronger position. The message from the two council leaders was clear: the Northern Powerhouse will have to be built on cross-party and inter-city cooperation.

In discussion, there was agreement on the significance of an elected mayor. “We will need a politically powerful Mayor to promote Greater Manchester on the international stage,” said Sir Richard, adding that, “We in Greater Manchester know what’s best for Greater Manchester.”

Cllr Anstee echoed the point, stressing that, “If you grow up in the North, you can stay in the North and be successful in the North.”

Discussion from the floor brought out a number of interesting further points:

  • Both speakers agreed the Greater Manchester mayoral model should make for more efficient governance
  • Sir Richard noted that for the Northern Powerhouse to be a success, it will need a “serious development budget” of around £500m
  • Comprehensive Spending Review is seen as a key test of Government commitment
  • Civic leaders will be looking at all public-sector land across Greater Manchester in trying to identify new sites for housing
  • Both were confident Devo Manc will be followed by similar devolution agreements in other city regions
  • Network Rail’s suspension of the rail electrification programme in the North is embarrassing to Government and assurances have been received from the Chancellor that the investment will get back on track
  • Policymakers in London are looking to Greater Manchester’s new powers with envy

Nicola Rigby, director, Bilfinger GVA planning development and regeneration team, said: “Whilst we remain to a certain extent in the dark over centralised decisions over, for example, east-west connectivity across the Northern Powerhouse, the messaging from Sir Richard Leese and Sean Anstee was clear. Public sector land is going to be considered as a priority as a means to deliver housing, and there will be a focus on targeting existing workforce and skills issues. The time for theorising is clearly over – there is no interest in discussing boundaries of the Northern Powerhouse any more – but there are some key questions remaining. Whilst there is a collective imperative to avoid politics coming into play, can these be avoided through the Spatial Framework process, and what impact the Mayor having one vote out of 11? Happily however we are now talking about Northern Powerhouse in practice and about how it will be measured (Gross Value Added, employment rates, ‘the usual economic indicators’). It feels like progress.”

Mark Rawstron, regional senior director, Bilfinger GVA: “Despite the political divide between Sean Anstee and Sir Richard Leese a real sense of working together came through, with many common themes and goals. Westminster now needs to put its money where its mouth is and if they do then it’s game on.”

The scale of the ambition was clear, with the speakers agreeing that though the focus now should be on delivering on last year’s promises from the Chancellor, the ultimate goal should be for full fiscal devolution, and all public-sector spending to be directed locally, with clear constitutional protections.

It is clear that the political push to build the Northern Powerhouse is in its early stages.

  • Stephen Smith is an account executive at Remarkable Engagement

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