An opportunity to make an impact within Northern Powerhouse discussions
Square One Law senior partner, Ian Gilthorpe shares his opinion on the Northern Powerhouse debate
After a difficult beginning, it is great news that the Tees Valley and the North East Combined Authority have signed a devolution deal with the Government. There have been a number of events in the region, including The Journal’s Breakfast on the Northern Powerhouse that demonstrate the business community’s commitment to engaging in the process.
In fact James Wharton the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse has made it clear that without business engagement there will be no deal on devolution. There is now a real opportunity for the Local Authorities, businesses and voluntary sector to pull together to ensure the North East can differentiate itself and have a real impact on shaping what the Northern Powerhouse could become.
It would have been unthinkable for the North East to be left behind simply because it had taken more time to analyse the situation. Whilst there was a risk that the debate about an elected Mayor could have become an unwelcome distraction, by taking the pragmatic approach and agreeing to the concept of elected Mayors, the North East will have a unique opportunity to stand alongside the other LEP areas which have been included in the first wave of devolution packages -to date, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. Rather than worrying about whether a Mayor’s office will add unnecessary bureaucracy, there is a chance by working collaboratively, to shape the debate and influence what kind of Mayor we want and need.
By discarding assumptions about a Mayor being a so-called “Boris-of the-North”, we could look at a completely different model to the one developed in London. For example, does an elected Mayor even have to be a politician? Could a business leader carry out the role acting as a critical friend to Local Authority colleagues and providing a much needed ambassadorial role for the region?
Everyone agrees that the North East is a great place to work and live. However, we have frequently been hampered by simplistic labels like – “industrial powerhouse”, or a “great party place”, or “one of England’s best kept secrets”. All of these statements in isolation may be accurate but they do not paint a fully rounded three dimensional picture of the Region. The United Kingdom is now the fastest growing western economy and the North East is the fastest growing region in the UK. Within the North East, which has the most productive manufacturing sector in the country, the service sector is the fastest growing element of the economy.
All of these facts signal that it is time that the North East adopted a more confident approach to its own image and communicate its successes and areas of special expertise which in turn, will lead to a better understanding outside of the Region of what the North East contributes not just to the economy, but to the culture and history of the UK. By acting as an ambassadorial role an elected Mayor could become the focus for a more mature approach as to how the North East presents itself and could become the “one-door” people knock on when they want to do business with the North East. It is good news that the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse is also from the Tees Valley as he will understand the needs of the Region.
We are aware that there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, possibly in parallel with the election of a Mayor depending on timings. This could prove massively destabilising or it could be a huge opportunity. If businesses and politicians collaborate quickly and effectively it will create opportunities to maximise what is available to the region by bringing fresh thinking to economic and social development as there are many people who have ideas and need a voice.
If you’d like to share your views email Ian Gilthorpe or call 0843 224 7901