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Collaboration and innovation are key to the development of the Northern Powerhouse

On Tuesday, 125 prominent business and civic leaders from across the region, the North West and Yorkshire assembled at an Insider event to debate how the North East needs to ‘innovate and take risks’ in order to benefit from the Northern Powerhouse.

Square One Law partners Ian Gilthorpe and Neil Warwick were the only lawyers attending the event in Bury where 15 speakers across three panels shared their views on transport, science, innovation and skills and property development and investment.

Discussions centred on collaboration and innovation rather than focussing on the politics of the initiative and the implementation of elected mayors.

Professor Roy Sandbach, who leads the North East LEP on innovation and lectures at the University of Newcastle, told the audience that everything “must be business-driven and not just about devolution.” He said: “We should be establishing where our strengths are. Universities work on research, not innovation; businesses work on innovation, so I think we need business to be the leaders of innovation.”

Lee Perkins, managing director of Newcastle-based Sage UK and Ireland, said: “There is a lot of commentary about what the problems are, especially in business, but not many are willing to step forward. We want sustainable employment and to stop the flow of talent leaving the region. We need to retain the talent we create. We need to physically and digitally connect much better and much quicker. Risk-taking and innovation aren’t always natural things for people to do in the North East.”

Lee went on to lay down the challenge “I can see the Northern Powerhouse being the entrepreneurs’ factory for the North East.”

George Haddo, Director of London based property investors LJ Group added a different perspective to the panel, adding: “We are attracted to the North and not away from London.”

Manchester City Council leader councillor Sir Richard Leese stated that transport was the top priority of the Northern Powerhouse. “The whole principle of the Northern Powerhouse is that we get a sum greater than the parts by vastly improving the connections between the major urban centres across the North. That means large scale investment in transport over a prolonged period of time. No investment in transport, no Northern Powerhouse.”

Business development partner Neil Warwick said of the event: “This was an incredibly positive event and it was great to see the discussion move away from the distraction of electing mayors. Whilst the shortfalls of the North East around SME creation and skills retention were highlighted, the focus remained on collaboration and how, together, we can make improvements.

“Although not discussed there seems to be a further opportunity for the North East to establish sectoral links with other regions and to position itself as the gateway to the Scottish market, Scandinavia and Northern Europe.”

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