24 February 2016
Marc Davies, Head of Environment, WYG, and Chair of ACE Northern Region Group (Association for Consultancy and Engineering), is representing WYG during the Transport & Infrastructure debate on Ports & Rail at the UK Northern Powerhouse Conference (Thursday, 25th February, 4:25pm).
WYG has always supported the idea of a robust northern economy and infrastructure. As a UK wide business with our headquarters in Leeds and over 20 offices dotted around the country, inspiring a buoyant North has been at the core of our operations. When the Northern Powerhouse concept was launched in June 2014, the business rallied wholeheartedly behind it. With our in-house technical expertise and focus on helping clients create strategic assets, our contribution to shaping the implementation of the Northern Powerhouse made intrinsic sense.
I have personally been avidly advocating the Northern Powerhouse, getting involved in its progress from the start. In September 2014, I was appointed Chair of the ACE Northern Region Group, and I saw that role as instrumental in channelling the cohesive impact of regional consultancies’ expertise, technical knowledge and influence. This position was further compounded by the formation of the Yorkshire and Humber Infrastructure Alliance in February 2015, of which ACE was a founding member.
The opportunity is truly huge. In ‘Rhetoric to reality: A business agenda for the northern powerhouse,’ a report published in September 2015, IPPR North ascertained that if the North could halve the gap between its productivity and the national output, then its economy would be £34 billion (11.9%) bigger.
In less than two years, there have been some key steps towards moving the Northern Powerhouse beyond political rhetoric into a reality. Among them, the establishment of Transport for the North, the Devolution Bill, and devolution deals secured for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the Northeast Combined Authority, Sheffield City Region, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, will certainly drive that positive momentum.
On 1st February, KPMG and CBI launched Business North in Leeds, which, to me, was a pivotal moment in the current efforts to make the Northern Powerhouse a tangible reality and success. This new group brings the pan-northern business focus and leadership needed to fuel its progress.
The Government has received some criticism for failing to deliver fully on political promises to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality. The closure of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in Sheffield to switch jobs to London, for instance, has become a symbol of how the Government’s actions are at odds with its message.
The recent floods in Cumbria and Yorkshire and their dire consequences on people and the economy have all but too clearly highlighted the need for concrete investment to the construction and maintenance of flood defences. They have also brought to the foreground the difference of committed investments between the North and South. If the Northern Powerhouse is to rebalance the economy of the country and become a hub of international investment, how can we expect to convince international businesses to set up offices in city centres that are prone to flooding?
More has yet to be done, and further commitment from the Government is needed, but this year could turn out to be when the Northern Powerhouse becomes a tangible reality rather than just a concept.