Mission to put the power into Powerhouse
Jonathan Oxley, Northern Powerhouse Ambassador and former regional chairman, Institute of Directors
The Victoria Hall in Saltaire opened in 1871 as a 'centre for recreation, culture and learning'. It is still used for the same purpose. It is a very fine building amongst many others. The whole of Saltaire is a monument to the industrial past that led to its creation.
At a wedding function in the Victoria Hall last week, beneath an enormous portrait of Sir Titus Salt himself, I was asked the most topical question that pertains to our industrial future: What do we need to do to get real impetus into the Northern Powerhouse?
Sir Titus looked down thoughtfully but sadly wasn't able to help me with this one.
The problems and obstacles are easy to identify: lack of political focus north of Watford, preoccupation with Brexit and, in our region until recently, lack of agreement on the structure of devolution. The solutions are harder to identify and harder still to deliver.
The best approach to any project has always been to identify the ultimate goal and work backwards. The ultimate goal is a British economy where the North has developed to a point where it is a counter-balance to London and the South East, where whatever goods or services you need can be sourced regionally and where you can move around the region, digitally and physically, with speed and comfort. None of that is impossible. It just requires focus and the will to make it happen.
The benefits of delivering this vision are so obvious to me (and many others) that it's hard to understand why the government doesn't appear to get it, or, if it does, do enough about it.
The benefits of achieving this vision are so important that it now requires all of us to apply some single–mindedness to getting us to where we need to be. There are an increasing number of people and organisations putting their shoulder to the wheel, but we need more. We need everyone.
I am impressed by the 'enough is enough' (or rather the ‘not enough is not good enough’) response to the ongoing shambles on our regional railways. We need to extend this further. The failure to grasp the opportunity to rebalance the economy by committing to major development of the North is not acceptable and can't be allowed to continue.
We should make this the issue at every opportunity. Our focus should be on this and this alone. All other issues, Brexit included, need to be incidental. We need major development and devolution in the North whether we are in the EU or out of it, on whatever basis.
We should be lobbying our industry bodies, local and national government at every opportunity to make it happen. At every election we must make it the principal policy issue.
This was the conclusion of the conversation in the Victoria Hall last week. And at the end of it I'm sure I saw the hint of an approving smile from Sir Titus.