Opinion

The opportunity to unlock the potential of the North has come

4 min read

03 June 2015

The delivery of the first Conservative Queen’s speech in almost 20 years marked a significant moment for the UK, with the government committing itself to introduce legislation with the aim to rebalance the economic recovery through the devolution of power and the creation of a "Northern Powerhouse".

For decades, London has been allowed to grow exponentially, attracting talent and investment and centralising business opportunity to within the boundaries of the M25. Meanwhile, outside of London, business growth has been far more restricted and there is a feeling that relative economic decline in the North is inevitable.

However, whilst it is encouraging to see the government now finally giving the North’s potential the attention it deserves, it must be considered as to how the full potential of great cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds can be realised.

Local decision-making will inevitably lead to a better public framework and support network for businesses in the North to take advantage of, helping them to reap the benefits of the UK’s appeal for inward investment. With decision-making responsive to the needs of local businesses – instead of blanket policy implementation from Westminster – the local economies of Northern cities will be able to arm themselves with the best tools relevant to prosper. 

In addition, investment in infrastructure, transport links and education, both in-school and adult education, will make the North a more attractive place for businesses, and their workforces, to be based.

Another significant step forward for businesses located in the North will be the retention of business rates, a scheme already being piloted in some local authority areas. Furthermore, a study by the Centre for Cities has also found that local business rates could increase the amount of floor space available to business, which is greatly needed for growth in cities outside of London. 

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However, as the saying goes, with power comes responsibility, and so the onus must lie with these empowered local authorities and city mayors to take a bigger role in tackling the societal problems that those outside of London face, such as higher youth unemployment, lower wages and low-skilled jobs. The government’s promise to deliver 2m new apprenticeships is a welcomed announcement, but local authorities need to go further. Using their new powers, local authorities should ensure that each young person leaving school is made aware of the full range of options available to them when starting a career.

Furthermore, if you wish for your apprentices to feel part of the business, nothing makes this clearer than hiring them on the same basis as your permanent employees, including the level of pay. Apprenticeships will provide a strong foundation for both the North’s standard of living and business growth, so as a business community, we must do more to encourage them.

The inclusion of the “Northern Powerhouse” policy in the Queen’s Speech is a positive development, and it is a great opportunity for the North to become a strong competitor to London and the South East. It’s essential that UK businesses take advantage of the attention that the North is attracting and we must not let this momentum pass.

Paul King is regional director of The Shield Group.