Associate and economics expert, Richard Cook comments for Insider Media.
Investment in the North’s transport infrastructure, including backing for Northern Powerhouse Rail, is required to provide a game-changing moment for the North’s economy, according to Richard Cook. Richard is an associate in Pegasus Group’s Manchester office and leads its economics-related work. He has 14 years’ experience working in economic development with expertise undertaking economic impact assessments, socio-economic analysis and economic forecasting.
Cook said the Northern Powerhouse initiative provided an opportunity for the North to provide “one coherent voice to government on topics such as housing, transport and skills”.
“There are 72 districts in the north of England and rather than working separately from one another, combining as part of the Northern Powerhouse means the north is better placed to compete on a national and international scale,” he said.
Despite the initial fanfare around the initiative, Cook said a “game-changing moment for the North’s economy” was still needed.
He said: “One thing we have seen is a lot of research being undertaken which highlights what needs to be done in terms of skills, sectors, infrastructure etc., but this evidence now needs to be translated into Northern Powerhouse-led initiatives that deliver long-term benefits. An example would be Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would link the six major city regions in the north. I’ve seen estimates suggesting this could provide a £100bn boost to the economy by 2050. Clearly this is very long-term, but I think it is exactly the kind of initiative that the Northern Powerhouse should be leading on.
“We’ve got a Northern Powerhouse minister who is quoted from time to time, but I’d have expected him to be far more proactive in promoting the concept. The Chancellor mentioned the Northern Powerhouse in his recent Budget, but then it all goes quiet again. A good start would be for the government to back the plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail. Clearly a lot of focus is on HS2, however improving train links between the major city regions of the north should be one of the top priorities for government if it’s serious about addressing the UK productivity gap and supporting growth in every part of the country.
“More investment is needed in rail and the road network. If you look at figures published by IPPR North, over the last year (2015/16-2016/17), transport spending in London increased by 11.4 per cent and fell by 3.6 per cent in the North of England. That can’t continue if the north is going to start pulling its weight in terms of contributing to national productivity as transport links are a key driver in boosting growth. In terms of roads, I read recently that Manchester holds first position for city congestion outside London. This congestion doesn’t just hold back growth, it also affects peoples’ quality of life and the image that people have of the north as a place to live.”
Cook emphasised that collaboration between the towns and cities of the Northern Powerhouse was key, with the region’s new metro mayors able to play an important role.
“The increased focus on city regions and Combined Authorities as facilitators of growth means that collaboration is increasing, which I completely support. Issues such as investing in infrastructure are so large-scale that it makes sense for towns and cities to work together in giving a clear and consistent message about what is needed to drive growth. We’ve recently seen Channel 4 announce it will be opening a new HQ in Leeds. With MediaCityUK already established in the North, I’d hope that Leeds and Greater Manchester start to work far more closely in looking at how to grow the digital and creative sector in the north of England.
“Understandably, the metro mayors have taken some time to find their feet in their respective areas. The fact that the Greater Manchester and Liverpool mayors have regularly highlighted the need for collaboration is encouraging and my hope is that we start to seem them making a real impact in 2019 in this respect. I think we’ll only be able to gauge the real impact once the mayors are in place for their second term in office from 2020 onwards.”
Cook added that success for the Northern Powerhouse would bring benefits for his business in helping attract work and attract talent.
He said: “We have 12 offices across the country, three of which are in the north (Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds). The success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda would obviously be beneficial in terms of us growing the business. This isn’t just in terms of winning more work in our core areas of planning, design, economics and environment, but also in terms of attracting and retaining employees in the north. The more the Northern Powerhouse can help boost growth in the north of England, the better the chances are of ensuring people consider it as a location to live and work.”
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