Sunday, June 19, 2016
Northern Powerhouse - Changing Mindsets
Rachel Burnham writes: Last Wednesday, in my role as Public Policy Adviser for CIPD Manchester, I had the pleasure of chairing a Public Policy meeting for the branch at which Ed Cox, the Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North), discussed with us the ‘Northern Powerhouse – Rhetoric or Reality’. The IPPR North is the northern base of a think tank focused on public policy issues and they have carried many pieces of research and produced publications on the Northern Powerhouse and related topics. Since our meeting last week they have launched a ‘Blueprint for a Great North Plan’, which sets out the steps they believe stakeholders across the northern region need to be taking now to make the most of the Northern Powerhouse idea.
This post is based on my personal reflections from this session and on my additional reading on the Northern Powerhouse. Here is a link to a Flipboard which brings together some of these reports & articles and includes a basic introduction to what is meant by the Northern Powerhouse.
One of the points from our meeting was just how much the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has captured the public imagination – certainly here in Manchester – if you are reading from down south that may of course not be the case at all! Almost unlike any other government initiative, this one has fallen on open ears in the North – that is not to say that everyone shares the same understanding or that there aren’t critiques of it, but it has achieved a widespread recognition at least. It picks up on our metropolitan pride, whether for Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle or Leeds; builds on our historic achievements from the industrial age; fits with more recent re-energising of these cities, helped by actions such as the move by the BBC to the Greater Manchester area; and of course, taps into the widespread irritation with the over-dominance by London and the South-East of almost every aspect of political and economic life in this country. No wonder we like the sound of the Northern Powerhouse! It feels about time!
However, the ideas behind the Northern Powerhouse are about more than northern pride, but are also about how we create a thriving and sustainable national economy that works for the whole country. So, don’t stop reading if you don’t live in the North!
The northern economy is huge – by northern I’m referring to an area that stretches from North Wales and Sheffield across the North West and Yorkshire to Newcastle. The size of this economy is 25% of the UK economy and if the north were a country in its own right, it would have the 8th largest economy of all European countries measured through GDP. However, the economy of the north is growing more slowly and productivity is lower than other European countries, with the exception of Greece.
The UK has a very large difference between the growth rate and prosperity of its capital and the other regions, particularly the North, compared to other European countries. Whilst London is continuing to grow, there are questions about the limits of this agglomeration and this has raised the issue about whether it would be better for the country to seek to rebalance economic growth through encouraging growth across the northern cities of the UK – the Northern Powerhouse. This would be a major shift in our approach to regional and industrial policy.
However, there are many challenges facing the north: incomplete transformation from our historical industrial past; the balance of jobs & roles – the north is more effected by the hourglass effect on the numbers and types of skills required; weaknesses in transport and other connectivity issues and the impact of a London-centric approach to policy making and resource allocation.
George Osborne’s approach has been three pronged, encouraging: agglomeration; connectivity – mainly transport related; and devolution of powers. These have both been lauded – and also criticised for their party political agenda – as one way of generating some Conservative traction in the Labour heartlands of the North and devolution as a way of distancing Westminster from the impact of the austerity measures.
But this approach to the Northern Powerhouse isn’t the only one. We could take other approaches which give much more emphasis on economic growth and prosperity for all.
We could focus on a different understanding of ‘city’ and rather than the single city approach, as in London, in which all the cities are subsumed into a single agglomeration and instead adopt a more European approach valuing the contribution made by a number of medium and smaller sized cities to a wider city-area ie the North of England. This would recognise the different strengths of each of the major cities in the region and also the part to be played by smaller ‘cities’ such as Warrington, Burnley and Durham – which interestingly seem to be growing more rapidly than the larger cities in recent times.
It would mean investing not just in improved transport links, but crucially in education, skills and other measures designed to increase productivity and innovation. This is particularly where we in L&D and the wider HR profession have a part to play. And this is one of the areas where devolution may have the potential to enable us to exert influence over policy developments in education and particularly the skills agenda to more closely meet local and regional needs.
There are many hurdles to be faced in making the ideas of the Northern Powerhouse anything more than an appealing phrase, particularly if this wider vision is embraced, not least the uncertainty over the UK’s place in Europe. But I think they are worth tackling. And I think there is a role for L&D and our colleagues in the wider HR field in this.
Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective. I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.