Northern Powerhouse: secrets to success

Rebalancing the north of England is essentially about productivity, transport and driving up skills across the region, says Amanda Clack,  Head of Infrastructure Advisory at EY. But can the authorities pull it off?

The Northern Powerhouse has come a long way since the Cities for Growth Report launch in 2014. It has not only provided greater powers and devolution, but has also united leaders across the North to come together for a common goal: economic growth enabled by infrastructure investment.

Rebalancing the north of England is essentially about productivity, transport and driving up skills across the region. However, the elephant in the room is how we can help to get these cities working even more closely together and share initiatives?

With a reach of 16 million people there is a need for a single voice on some key aspects, such as transport, and the newly formed Transport for the North has clearly taken on this role.  There is also a need for unity for projects to deliver greater capacity and to benefit from scale, particularly through the use of innovative approaches to make cities ‘smarter’ through developments such as 5G mobile connectivity and driverless vehicles.   

Despite the amount of progress made, it is clear that the ‘devolution revolution’ is still very much in its infancy with a lot more responsibility to come north. The essential ingredient will be the power to unlock direct finance where it is required locally.

Fiscal devolution is ultimately the key to unlocking the potential of large scale infrastructure projects in the Northern Powerhouse. This, coupled with an effective governance model and greater autonomy will ensure infrastructure can deliver a wider community benefit, in terms of bringing people closer together, as well as accelerating economic growth potential.  

Devolution will give responsibility to the region for progress against the National Infrastructure Plan and now is the right time for government and business to come together around a common agenda. With both collaborative leadership and more empowerment at the local level, we can demonstrate that “the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.

Ingredients for a successful Northern Powerhouse:

•Leadership – Creating a single, united, long-term vision across the north

•Governance – Evolving the right governance model for delivery, as is more autonomy from Westminster

•Funding and Financing – Fiscal devolution that will drive progress on projects

•Transport and Infrastructure –  Focusing on this as a key economic enabler, but more lobbying is needed to get Rail for the North/High Speed Three on track; and

•Cities – Looking at the cities in the context of a wider labour force rather than as a single city – putting cities at the heart of the debate and recognising people need to be engaged and consulted on how to make everyday living better is key