A group of between 10 and 15 companies will fund and help set the agenda for George Osborne’s new Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Construction giant Mace, Associated British Ports and Barclays bank are among the first to join.
The task of assembling the business group is being led by Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, who said there would be three or four full-time staff at the partnership and its own dedicated office. The staff will likely be a mix of economists, researchers and communications experts. The location of the office has not been decided. Cornish declined to say how much money the private sector members had contributed to the new organisation.
The role of the group will be to set the agenda for new ideas to put to government for how best to stimulate growth and generate investment in the North.
Osborne will chair the partnership, which did not launch any new measures or targets today, focusing its efforts on maintaining the momentum of existing initiatives such as better transport links.
The privately-funded partnership will commission specialist research and work collaboratively with other organisations, including chambers of commerce and the new Business North body, to produce research and insight from a pan-Northern perspective. The partnership will support the delivery of existing Northern Powerhouse commitments and develop the evidence base for taking the initiative further in areas such as skills, housing and research and innovation.
At a press conference held in Manchester Town Hall this morning, Osborne, MP for Tatton and former chancellor, also said Michael Bloomberg, media tycoon and ex-mayor of New York, will lend his support to the new metro mayors due to be voted in next year for Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and elsewhere, through his Bloomberg Philanthropies charitable foundation.
Facing questions from the floor, Osborne admitted he had not met prime minister Theresa May to discuss Northern Powerhouse but has met with Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who assured him that government is fully committed to the Northern Powerhouse. He did say Cllr Sean Anstee, leader of Trafford Council, and Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, met May at 10 Downing Street last week and, said Osborne, “left with no doubt the government was 100% committed to the Northern Powerhouse”.
The project wishlist for Northern Powerhouse includes devolving powers to the Transport for the North organisation set to become a statutory authority, high-speed rail links east-west from Liverpool to Leeds, and HS2 from London through Birmingham to the North.
Bernstein was not present at today’s event but is being tipped to take a role in the Northern Powerhouse Partnership after he retires from the local authority next spring. Osborne praised Bernstein and said he has done “an outstanding job and is one of the great stars of public service in our country”.
On the panel were Osborne, flanked by Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, James Cooper, chief executive of Associated British Ports, and Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester.
ABP has the large port at Hull and short-sea ports at Fleetwood, Garston in south Liverpool, and Barrow. James Cooper, chief executive, said: “Ports on both banks of the Humber handle trade worth £75bn. The Humber is a vital gateway connecting businesses across the North to global markets and a key driver of future economic growth.”
Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace, said: “New transport infrastructure and connectivity are absolutely vital for boosting growth, improving productivity, opening up opportunity and increasing wellbeing in the North of England. Mace has worked on major infrastructure and development schemes in the North for over 20 years, and we have seen first-hand the unrivalled passion, excitement and dedication of local people to turn the Northern Powerhouse from rhetoric to reality.”
The remainder of the business group will reflect the priority sectors laid out in the Northern Independent Economic Review published earlier this year: advanced manufacturing, digital development, health innovation and energy, along with education, logistics and financial and professional services.
The NIER, commissioned by Transport for the North, found potential to add £97bn and 850,000 jobs to the UK by 2050 through improved productivity in the North.
Javid said: “This government realises the huge untapped potential of our great Northern towns and cities. That is why I warmly welcome the launch of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
“I hope it will become an important part of the debate and help us to do all we can to further boost jobs, growth and opportunities in the North of England.”
The next Northern Powerhouse report to be published is likely to be the Sir Nick Weller’s education review.