The Northern Powerhouse: much more than roads and trains


It’s always great to see media discussion of the Northern Powerhouse. Of course, with my northern roots, I’m a tiny bit biased but what would make this northern soul even happier would be to see more rounded reporting on the region – in fact any region outside of the capital – and what it has to offer.

Last year a BBC-commissioned survey highlighted that two-thirds of people in the North of England didn’t know what the Northern Powerhouse was, while 20% had heard of it but didn’t know what it was. Disappointing. Even more disappointing is the fact that its coverage is both scant and largely negative. And there’s me thinking northerners had the monopoly on misery…

It did cross my mind that in true Dr Who style the BBC exists in a parallel universe where some of the more positive elements of the Northern Powerhouse have failed to reach its lovable old time machine. Odd really, given the fact the broadcaster has chosen to make the region a successful base for several of its own operations.

The North of England is no stranger to enterprise – from cotton mills to computing, the area boasts an outstanding commitment to industry that continues today with its breakthrough work in the medtech sector. We’ve heard about the area’s potential to be a global leader for clinical trials while the North’s academic excellence is renowned ­­– one example being Manchester University’s development of drug-packed ‘grenades’ to treat cancer. Science and technology hubs are growing in strength while a new Life Science Enterprise Zone promises to make Manchester a major innovation hub. It’s all good stuff, enough in fact for Manchester alone to be dubbed the new Massachusetts where medtech is concerned.

When George Osborne outlined the concept of the Northern Powerhouse we heard talk of transport, logistics, science and innovation. But this recent report (22 Feb) focussed very much on transport and infrastructure. Ex-CBI chief John Cridland discussed the fact that we can’t be sure investment in infrastructure will help the region. He recommends that we should take a ‘leap of faith’ in new roads and railways (presumably as we northerners shiver in the rain and suffer the grime and the dour sentiment that goes hand in hand with a life in the North).

Well, I can let you into a little secret. There’s no leap of faith required. The North has enough potential to make a significant contribution to the UK economy without us having to resort to Pollyanna-style shenanigans in the hope we might one day be as important as our southern cousins. I’m no dyed-in-the-wool northerner and lived many happy and enjoyable years in the UK’s capital but I know an opportunity when I see one. This region has a very prosperous future ahead of it. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t get the column inches it deserves. And my geographical location aside, the same goes for any of the industry’s hotspots – let’s give them the respect they deserve.

Last year we saw the appointment of the UK’s first minister for the Northern Powerhouse. I don’t think we need a BBC-commissioned survey to stab a guess that more than two-thirds of people living in the region have never even heard of James Wharton.

The question of whether we need another London has been asked. No we probably don’t. What we do need is to recognise the economic value of the North and the industry it contains. And this goes for any of the sector’s regional hotspots. With the economy in Greater Manchester alone outstripping Wales and Northern Ireland, the North of England has a great story to tell – and that’s just one area in the UK. Medtech offers huge potential for the UK economy so isn’t it about time we heard about it?













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