Whilst the “Northern Powerhouse” was a phrase coined by George Osborne in August 2014, the underlying premise of the need to rebalance the UK economy dates back to 2004 when John Prescott launched the ‘Northern Way’. A change in chancellor or indeed in government would not change the need for this rebalancing. The northern economy is an important and essential part of restoring economic growth to the UK as a whole. If anything the potential impact of an Out vote on the economy in the short term makes the need for a Northern Powerhouse even more pertinent.
For those of us who work and live in the North the challenges for the northern economy are familiar ones. Whilst central Government offered some support for the Northern Powerhouse project in the form of investment in rail infrastructure, direct financial support has been limited. The Northern Powerhouse project was intended to be, and must continue to be, a stakeholder led movement. Its success is therefore dependent not on who is in government but instead on the collective engagement of the stakeholders including business, local authorities and investors.
What impact the vote will have in reshaping our economy and relationship with the EU is likely to remain unclear for some time to come. However one thing is certain, change is coming and it is up to all stakeholders in the North to work together to address the many challenges we face and turn these into opportunities. Investors will be capitalising on opportunities such as weak sterling, low interest rates which whether inside or outside the EU.
As the recent Northern Powerhouse Economic Review illustrated the North is lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of productivity and jobs. Irrespective of leaving the EU the North must be committed to closing this gap and use its four identified prime capabilities of advanced manufacturing, digital development, health innovation and energy enabled by skills and infrastructure to do so. It is noteworthy that the role of Northern Powerhouse minister has been retained (albeit with a new incumbent) and that Theresa May has already spoken about the project. We can only hope that this indicates a renewed commitment to boosting the northern economy and that Northern Powerhouse mark II will be supported with government funds.