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Yorkshire

Jonathan Oxley - Regular Column

08 Aug 2016
The Northern Powerhouse cannot and should not be something created by politicians and local authorities, it must be led by business.

Notwithstanding the turbulence caused by the Brexit vote and subsequent political fallout there is no reason for the Powerhouse project to be postponed. It should be a top priority for our new Prime Minister Theresa May and the close involvement of business can ensure that rapid progress is made.

There is a misconception that the Powerhouse vision can only be realised by a combination of political agreement and massive infrastructure projects.

History tells us this is not the case. Take Leeds as an example. Significant growth began in the mid-16th Century – it didn't wait for the appointment of its first mayor nearly a century later. 

Geography undoubtedly played a role in Leeds' development, being at a major crossing point of the River Aire, with wool and cloth producing areas nearby and access to the Humber to the east. However, the completion of the Leeds-Liverpool canal in 1816 wasn't to create industry in Leeds, but to service it. 

Together with my counterparts, the chairmen of the IoD in the North West and the North East, I am calling for business across North to step forward and realise the vision of the Northern Powerhouse: focusing not on a goal of building roads and railway lines or political accord (helpful as they might be), but on adding £34bn to the UK’s GDP by 2030. Create the wealth and the infrastructure will follow, as will the politicians.

We need to move away from geographical competition in the North and debating issues such as whether the “Manchester model” of devolution would work in Yorkshire or not. 

We should focus instead on an industry sector or cluster approach that brings together the core and common business strengths across the whole area and encourages those businesses to grow, take their products and services to the world, and succeed.

To illustrate this approach, one of the IoD’s first initiatives is to take leaders in the Fintech (financial technology) sector from across the North to Silicon Valley in California. In business terms there is little difference between this project and the cloth markets of 18th Century Leeds. It's about business people coming together to do business and create wealth in the appropriate forum.

We will be focusing on other areas where there is strength across the North to deliver leadership and growth, these include life sciences, nuclear renewables, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, digital healthcare, advance manufacturing and financial and professional services.

The IoD’s vision is to make the North a Powerhouse for the national economy with a profile on the global stage as a key knowledge and innovation based environment.

Following the Brexit vote the North has an opportunity to establish itself as a global hotspot of 21st Century industries. Our open markets, entrepreneurialism, trusted legal and financial system and flexible labour practices give us a competitive advantage. There is no time to lose and certainly no need to wait for politicians to agree or for tunnels, roads and railways to be built.

By bringing together the skills, experience and drive of our businesses, we can build a Northern Powerhouse that is worthy of the name.


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