9 February 2016
For the Northern Powerhouse to become more than rhetoric and aspiration, it must deliver outcomes that are meaningful to the lives of people who live and work in the region, argues Simon Pringle, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development.
If there is a genuine ambition to rebalance the UK economy and release the latent potential of the north of England, can we learn anything from smart, innovative businesses in the region? Here are a few thoughts on some of things that they do differently.
Firstly, they tend to have very clear purpose and intent. By this we mean clarity as to why change is important, what is to be achieved and how it will add value.
Without a well-defined and carefully communicated expression of purpose and intent, even the best systems and processes won’t help deliver meaningful outcomes. In the context of the Northern Powerhouse, this means gaining some real clarity as to what good looks like to inform the way in which local policies are set, investment decisions are taken and infrastructure is planned.
The second trait of the most successful organisations is that they tend to have really effective leadership to set the purpose and intent. Great leaders have always created an impact; those individuals who see what is possible, take brave decisions, make things happen and inspire others to come with them. These leaders look to the bigger picture and don’t engage in local power struggles or look after their own patch at the expense of the main objective.
What does this mean for the Northern Powerhouse? Given the requirements of the devolution process, this need for leadership will almost certainly place a focus on the characteristics of successful Mayoral candidates. Will they emerge from the local authority ‘establishment’ or will we see an emphasis on charismatic and ambassadorial individuals who introduce a little more diversity and reflect the characteristics of a good quality FTSE 100 CEO?
In parallel to elected positions, there is a clear indication that leadership will also emerge from the business community. The recently formed Business North group, amongst other cross sector initiatives, evidences this. A unified corporate voice will help cut across more parochial distractions and the decades-old habits of local politics.
Somewhat controversially, it also means central Government backing words with actions and working really hard not send contradictory messages. Decisions such as the one to close the BIS office in Sheffield and relocate the jobs to London are not particularly helpful if one is trying to convince a sceptical public that ‘Northern Power House’ is more than an electoral sound bite.
The third lesson from the most innovative organizations comes from their integrated thinking, behaviour and reporting. They understand the context in which they operate and focus upon those issues that are material to the creation of value and management of risk. If the Northern powerhouse is about anything, it must be about integrated action.
We already know that, for the Northern Powerhouse to deliver for local communities and business, an effective integrated transport strategy is critical. The Transport for the North proposals have understandably attracted a lot of attention given the materiality of this need. Transport is not, however, the only infrastructure that requires integrated thinking.
Energy, for example, is also critical. Without a joined up approach to energy policy across the region there is no guarantee that the potential to be a major contributor to the UK’s energy mix will be fulfilled; whether that be in relation to Liverpool’s tidal ambitions, the plans Leeds has for a major Hydrogen project, Cumbria’s energy coast or Teeside’s focus on carbon capture. Integrated thinking that translates into well-planned infrastructure can underpin the potential for the Northern Powerhouse to continue having a significant energy economy long after the days of coal are behind us.
The need for integrated thinking extends beyond tangible infrastructure. It relates to doing more with what we already have and establishing a presence on the world stage. It also means the private sector working in close partnership with local and national government across a wide range of social, economic and environmental agendas.
It is from that collaboration, with effective leadership supporting clear purpose and intent, that the economic potential of the Northern Powerhouse will be unlocked.
Simon Pringle was recently appointed Head of Strategy and Corporate Development. Simon has over 20 years' experience in commercial strategy, innovation and risk management. He currently serves on the Leeds City Region (LEP) Green Economy Panel and Investment Board, as well as a number of advisory boards.