The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project will be held back unless more is done to tackle wider inequalities across the region, says Professor of Healthcare Management Naomi Chambers.
Speaking at a post-election debate in Manchester, Naomi warned of the danger of “rearranging the deckchairs” when it came to implementing devolution structures such as in healthcare funding, and that there was a danger of losing sight of the wider economic and social picture.
“The North West is a region of great inequalities and the greatest constraint on productivity we actually have in this region is educational attainment. We have to raise the sights for our poorer communities.”
Naomi said continued speculation over if and when the high speed HS2 rail line will be built between London and Manchester muddied the waters. “Frankly HS2 seems like a giant white elephant to me.”
The audience at the Turnaround Management Association debate, hosted by law firm DWF, generally agreed. They said the development of better east-west links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull was more pressing, and that stronger connections between the ports of Liverpool and Hull would have significant economic benefits for the north. However some attendees felt there was an element of a “leap of faith” required with a scheme such as HS2, citing initial scepticism of the Channel Tunnel project which had since become a great success.
Meantime, the debate heard that the North West also needed to lobby hard to take full advantage of its strength in the energy sector. In particular, the region needed to be at the forefront of the shale gas revolution and the next generation of nuclear power facilities.
Asked about the outcome of the proposed EU referendum, the debate heard that the Conservative party may need to do a lot of “very nimble footwork” in terms of appearing to gain concessions from Brussels. However, there was a strong consensus in the room that business would get behind a ‘yes’ vote to stay in the EU.
The panel were also asked for their views on getting more women onto the boards of UK businesses. Added Naomi: “Some countries such as in Scandinavia have quota systems which have been very successful.
However, culturally I don’t think the UK is keen on quotas and I think women prefer to reach the top on their own merits. There is, however, a strong case for having women on boards of companies and this is backed up by research. Boards with women tend to be more successful, while women are also far more likely to challenge and take on what can be an old boys’ network.”