Senior representatives from the five core cities across the North of England came together for a debate about the importance of connectivity, graduate retention, developing sector specialisms and potential tax incentives.
Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, and Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive of Liverpool City Council, sat alongside Roger Marsh, chairman of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Ben Still, chief executive of Sheffield City Region, and Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council at the GVA breakfast event at the Carlton Hotel on Thursday morning.
Fitzgerald stressed that "the Northern Powerhouse needs to be a counterweight to London, which is sucking in all of the talent. The Northern Powerhouse gives the North an opportunity to be a contributor to the solution of our imbalanced economy, which is not an issue we can leave to our grandchildren, we need to deal with it now."
At the centre of the discussion was the issue of connectivity. "East-West connectivity is not even at a 20th century standard, let alone 21st century," said Fitzgerald. "Decisions need to be made quickly now, or the gap will continue to grow between the North and South."
Sheffield's Still agreed. "We're on a journey to completely transform transport in the North. This will involve significant investment in the next three years – people need to see the benefits of all the Northern Powerhouse discussions in a rapid time frame."
Unlike the other city representatives, Bernstein steered clear of promoting Manchester's specific property development opportunities, and instead stressed that developing sector specialisms would be the key to the North's growth.
"The Northern Powerhouse is an example of how cities can reach over natural geographies and collaborate," he said. "Together, we can develop distinctive sectors of global significance; Sheffield has advanced materials, Leeds and Liverpool life sciences, Newcastle research into ageing.
"If we do not develop specialisms we will not deliver an international trading base that is fundamental to our success."