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The Northern Powerhouse and Devolution

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was coined in 2014 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne who argued that the lack of economic and physical connections between the cities and city regions of the North of England was holding back their growth, with significant implications for the national economy.

Since then a raft of interventions have been announced to help turn the rhetoric of a Northern Powerhouse into reality such as: the Greater Manchester Devolution Deal; more powers for Transport for the North; and the creation of a Northern Transport Strategy. 

With the creation of a Northern Powerhouse a continued government priority, the Alliance Fund is supporting two research projects in this area.

The first study, led by Professor Bruce Tether, set out the current economic profile of the key city regions across the North and compares their performance with that of London and of the UK as a whole. Reflecting the policy pledges contained within the Conservative manifesto, for the purposes of this analysis the Northern Powerhouse is made up of the city regions of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and the North East.

The project encompassed six half-day workshops including: Manchester and its economic strengths and weaknesses; business, professional and creative sectors in Manchester; the skills and employment challenge facing Manchester; and the infrastructure imperative. It has also included two pilot projects: Mapping, measuring and understanding the business services and creative industries sectors in Greater Manchester; and governance of the city region.


The second study, led by Professor Karel Williams and entitled ‘Making devolution work differently’ brings together three separate and distinctive research groups to analyse housing and transport in Greater Manchester.

The objective is to explore whether and how devolution can redefine relations between local elites and citizens in the way that priorities are drawn up and resources deployed in delivering housing and transport.

Using a combination of official documents, case studies and interviews the project will develop a cross-disciplinary integrated framework for understanding how devolution could work differently. This framework is intended to be transferable across other cities/ egions, as well as across other areas of provision.

The project combines existing expertise from across AMBS in socio-technics, accountability and governance, and follow the money/political economy to contribute to academic debates around the ‘Devo-Manc’ agenda and the place of city regions.

Three phases are envisaged. First, for each area, we will examine existing priorities and policy in Greater Manchester and the way that these are being met through various combinations of private and public sector organisations.

Secondly, we will undertake case studies that combine central showpieces, such as the NOMA 53 development in Manchester, and transport policy in Oldham after the extension of the tram network.

In the third phase we will explore alternative models for housing and transport, in particular to investigate how democratic engagement and community involvement can more effectively link local development to the interests of citizens.