Northern Powerhouses, Midlands Engines and city alliances were rife at the second MIPIM UK in London last week, as private and public sector representatives from Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Knowsley and Lancashire showed up to promote the North West.
A series of panel discussions on Wednesday demonstrated that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ had evolved from a buzzword into a battle cry. Leaders from across the Northern cities and their conurbations gave a unified message about the revolutionary potential of the initiative and were relentlessly optimistic about the Government’s ability to deliver on its promises.
Manchester and Liverpool’s networking drinks on the Wednesday evening were held at Somerset House, a much more prestigious location than last year. But there were grumbles amongst attendees at being dragged in rush hour across the city, only to be turned away because the venue was too full. By 8.30pm most people had dispersed, a remarkably early finish for Manchester and Liverpool which left veterans of the MIPIM conference in Cannes aghast.
For the North West, the three-day conference was really a one day event, with the majority of delegates attending for the first day and then returning North, which by Friday resulted in an empty Manchester & Liverpool stand save for the ever-diligent Marketing Manchester team.
The organisation of the conference at London’s Olympia left more to be desired than last year. Panels were marred by poor sound systems and a confusing conference programme showed clashing events, at one point putting Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein in two places at once.
While MIPIM UK seems to have gathered momentum in its second year, with senior Government ministers such as Greg Clark and Brandon Lewis in attendance, and representatives from the Chinese delegation touring the stands, in many ways the conference felt like it was yet to find its niche. Attracting foreign investment was a consistent theme of the programme, but the exhibitor and attendee list was dominated by UK-based companies and local authorities who mainly talked to each other. Similarly, how to create more interest in the regions and rebalance the economy was a much-discussed topic, but the conference’s location in the capital created an inevitable London bias.
Overall, feedback from across the North West delegation was positive, with “lots of productive conversations” taking place. However, whether MIPIM UK created a fresh platform for these conversations or merely hosted the inevitable remains to be seen.