I’ve been blogging a bit lately on UK technology policy and strategy lately, we’ve looked at the actual technology that the Northern Powerhouse requires and skills. I’ve tried to give some examples of where we’re really struggling and need that strategic help from uk.gov but are sadly lacking in anything with substance.
Currently, the Northern Powerhouse is nothing more than a brand, a bit like TechCity, it means nothing. At best, it is a transport strategy; at worst, it’s the Londoners thinking we better pretend to de-risk the UK economy to global investors by adding the economies of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle together and get a sum that’s getting on a par with London… kind of…
I’m kind of glad I’ve help off posting this article as the announcement last week of the giant cut in funding in rail investment and renewals has really proved some of the points I made in previous posts. The Northern Powerhouse was previously tagged with projects such as the Northern Hub, an investment in rail in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. It was nothing if not a transport strategy. Now it appears it’ll either morph into something to explain something successful that was already happening or fade out altogether.
It’s sad but the infrastructure investment has always been London centric. I should probably say, I’m not really too fussy about the London economy being as large as it is. I happen to think it’s a good thing for the UK. Without London, the country would have very little going for it. To be fair to the shandy drinking friends of mine, they do suffer more overcrowding down there – they do get investment, but it’s usually far too late.
Back in the day when the North was an industrial powerhouse (before it turned into the proverbial outhouse), London was tiny. Industries change, economies rearrange themselves and competitive advantages are always transient. Heathrow used to be the world’s busiest airport, not the case anymore. Change is inevitable.
So, then what of the Northern Outhouse Powerhouse. If we are to become the Northern Powerhouse and there is no transport strategy anymore, what things of note do we have? Tech, sadly, no. Manufacturing, well better than the South, but it’s still tiny compared to global standards. Education, no the South has that too. The sad fact of the matter – we don’t know what the North is going to be a Powerhouse of yet. It could be something like media, given the BBC and ITV presence in Salford. It could be anything. There will be no choice, no strategy, nothing that will or will not make this happen. It’ll come down to sheer ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the people there.
The construction and expansion of MediaCity at Salford, does really give me some hope that Greater Manchester will have an outlet for the creatives in the area. Will this become world class though – time will tell. If the government is really serious about supporting the Northern Powerhouse it really needs to really evaluate what support structures work best and really set them free amongst the Northern Cities in preference to those in the South.
Private enterprise is truly awful at public transport. The only way this can be improved in the North is direct government investment. The UK government knows it needs to reduce journey times from said Northern cities, but really the plans are merely shallow at best. They may now not even happen. More radical thinking really needs to be considered – from dumping High Speed 2 between London and Birmingham and just building a high speed line between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. Sadly, better and faster public transport links need to happen all over the UK, our pre-Victorian rail infrastructure in many places can’t cope with the population growth and pre-emptive investments need to happen.
At the weekend, I had my first ever trip to Germany, I was amazed by the infrastructure in Munich. Going from Manchester airport to Munich Airport, a place I thought would have been on a par, I was completely taken back how good it was compared to the terrible jumble of facilities that is Manchester. The trains were quick and efficient, with multiple options to get to the same places. I was seriously impressed. Which really, doesn’t help my feelings towards the UK. Our population grows through births, immigration etc and we are still using Victorian infrastructure to support many parts of our economy.
Surely a you cannot describe anywhere as a powerhouse when the outhouse is connected to a Victorian sewer?
All we know is there’s a movement of people trying to get other people connected at the moment, the TechNorth off-shoot of the TechCity programme, the IoD Northwest and many other organisations that I’ve spoken to who are trying to connect people with ideas to the right people are working like crazy whilst the government spotlight is on us. Admittedly, in my youth I’d have had a very different opinion on these type of not-for-profit organisations. I don’t know whether it’s mellowing in my old age, but people being connected with other people is why London succeeds, opportunities arise from meeting like-minded people.
In my younger years, I was involved with a very successful organisation and the assistance we had from the not-for-profits came after we were begging for assistance. After we became a success story, they wanted to associate. That certainly jaded my opinion. The vast majority of what I see going on in the North at the moment is the exact opposite and there’s a varied mix of organisations to appeal to many types of entrepreneur.