Business must help define the Northern Powerhouse

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If the Northern Powerhouse is truly going to be a game-changer then the public, policymakers – and particularly business – has to get behind the initiative and help define its vision.

That was the resounding message at this year’s Great Manchester Business Conference at the Hilton Deansgate, an event organised by pro-manchester and co-sponsored by Alliance Manchester Business School.

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR, a Manchester-based think tank, said the globally-recognised drivers of regional economic growth were not just good transport infrastructure but also a strong skills base, innovation, and access to finance. However the Northern Powerhouse was currently a “muddle” of these four ideas, he said.

“It is a rather muddled concept. Is the Northern Powerhouse just a proxy for proper regional economic policy? So far Manchester has followed the government plan, but how long and how sustained will government enthusiasm be? There is a great challenge for Manchester to mobilise both business and the public. If the Northern Powerhouse is going to be a success it is up to us and the private sector to get behind it.”

Cox said the success of the Northern Powerhouse should be judged against key criteria such as improving prosperity for all, raising the attainment of early years school children, and tackling the democratic deficit.

Lorna Fitzsimons, the former Rochdale MP and director of The Alliance Project – a scheme which helps bring textiles manufacturing back to the UK – said the key to Greater Manchester’s success was “connectivity, confidence and attitude”. “We should define the vision of Northern Powerhouse, not wait for tablets of stone,” she said.

Howard Simms, Chief Executive of Manchester app specialist Apadmi, added: “Manchester is starting to take control of its own future. But its entrepreneurs need to know where the doorways are.”

Kieron Flanagan, senior lecturer at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at Alliance MBS, took part in a debate at the conference about higher education in the context of the Northern Powerhouse.

He said the north had a great set of universities and one of the most important things they did collectively was attract people to the region. However he said there were challenges in terms of the concentration of government research within the “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London. “Other universities have to run faster just to keep up.”

Flanagan said universities needed to create wider opportunities for its students to experience business life in the city while studying here. “Universities traditionally think about large firms but as the sector mix changes we need to think about how we can work with smaller firms too.”

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