Changing the Northern Powerhouse to benefit the people

Around 300 people gathered at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium today for the first ever People’s Powerhouse conference. The unique event, organised to create dialogue about inclusive, good growth and its potential to transform communities and lives across the north of England, aims to shape priorities for the Northern Powerhouse to ensure that communities, skills and health are as much a feature as transport and infrastructure.

Giving the introductory address at the event, Victor Adebowale, chief executive of social enterprise Turning Point, said: “The future is about the things that we don’t talk about” and called for a “people’s revolution” across the north to transform towns, cities and communities across the region. 

Addressing Brexit directly and some of the issues that gave rise to last June’s vote to leave the EU, Adebowale said: “We need to make sure that we support economic and social infrastructure to underpin immigration,” calling for local and national government to invest in projects and schemes that made a difference to people’s lives. “We are in an era when the north can create a future for not just the north, but for the whole country,” he said.

Chief executive of Doncaster Council, Jo Miller, said that people had to be involved in the Northern Powerhouse if it was to be a success. This wasn’t a ‘nice to have’ it was essential. “We can change the conversation and we don’t have to accept the status quo,” she said. People can point out the absurdity in government policy and make things better, said Miller. “We need to redesign public services with people in mind. When you live in someone else’s shoes then you can see that things need to change,” Miller said.

Giving the keynote address, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said that the current political system had failed the north and fundamental change was needed. “Westminster has given us the crisis in politics we currently have because it hasn't trusted local people to change things,” Burnham said that to make change happen, people needed to start from four key principles.

First was achieving a balanced representation of people - men and women - so that all voices are heard. Second was opening the doors of the Powerhouse, said Burnham. “We need to let the people in to bring in voices that are not traditionally heard and we have to challenge the corrosive notion that we shouldn't bother with people who don't vote, especially young people. 

Once people were involved in the process, it was important to make sure that they have a real voice and were given a real job to do, said Burnham. “We need to build communities not just places,” he said. “A new approach to regeneration is needed so that we put people at the heart of development. If we do this then the momentum behind devolution will become unstoppable. And people will take inspiration from what we do in Manchester,” Burnham said.

Speaking at the end of the event, IPPR North director, Ed Cox, called for the creation of a Council for the North to provide a strong voice for the region. "We need a northern voice in the Brexit negotiations and to speak out on important issues like energy," said Cox. Going even further, Cox also said that he wanted to see the creation of a twice yearly Northern Citizens' Assembly to pioneer a new, more democratic and deliberative decision making that would give people real influence over the direction of the region. 


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