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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Member Blog: Who’s afraid of 2017? The view from the Northern Powerhouse

By Simon Collingwood, Director for Quatro North

2017 brings turmoil at the global, national and regional level. But what does this mean for the North of England? The Northern Powerhouse will enter its third anniversary this year. This is a long time in politics and unlike many other Government initiatives, it has firmly and successfully galvanised support across the North. What can we expect going forward and what should we be looking for in 2017?

1. It’s the economy, stupid

The Northern Powerhouse is both a political and economic construct. Political in terms of devolution and positioning adopted by the Conservative Government; but economic, because substantively the mission is one of growth through increasing investment and narrowing wage differentials with the Greater South East (and international competitors).

The forecasts at the national and regional level are not good; EY’s recent analysis pointed to price rises, increasing uncertainty, increasing inequality, and falling household income and spending. For the Northern Powerhouse region, forecasts are for lower growth 2016 - 2019 than experienced in the previous 3 years in the North West, Yorkshire & Humber and North East.

Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to watch for further spending commitments or the use of other policy levers from the Government to offset this gloomy picture.

2. Metro Mayors

In May, we are due to participate and observe the election of Metro Mayors in Greater Manchester, Greater Birmingham, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region and Tees Valley. (Though Sheffield City Region will have a challenging time to meet the May deadline for the election following the High Court Judgement just before Christmas which upheld Derbyshire County Council’s complaint about the quality of the public consultation.)

I will be paying close attention to the posture adopted by each of the candidates toward central Government and indeed between the newly elected Mayors. I think it will also be critical to look at how they galvanise their wider political constituencies on strategic matters of housing and infrastructure development. The voter turnout numbers will certainly be something to keep an eye on.
Similarly, voter turnout for the PCC elections will also be one to watch, as poor voter turnout could undermine the reputation of the role.

Its finally worth noting that while the Mayors will be the spectacle, it will also be necessary to look at the pursuit of wider devolution deals such as in Leeds City Region, Lincolnshire, and Lancashire.

3. Industrial Strategy

It has been suggested that the Government’s Industrial Strategy should be published by the end of January. It was earlier anticipated for the Autumn Statement and then before Christmas, so it will be received with considerable expectation. No.10’s appointment of Giles Wilkes of the FT to lead their involvement in the policy development is an interesting addition to the mix.

For the Northern Powerhouse, I will be looking to see how the Strategy will dock in with the earlier pronouncements on the Northern Powerhouse (HMT’s Strategy in November) and the well-regarded Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (Transport for the North). The latter was very strong on identifying the sectors where the North has clear national and international comparative advantage - Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Health Innovation and Digital Technologies. What will the Industrial Strategy contribute to these growth sectors in the North?


Brexit will continue to dominate political headlines in 2017. It will be interesting to see how close we get to answers on what Brexit might look like rather than just the rhetoric. The Prime Minister has reconfirmed that she intends to invoke Article 50, formally signalling the UK’s intention to leave the EU, in March 2017. Central Government will rightly take the lead on these negotiations. The question will be how strong will the engagement be between regions, business, and wider civil society in the formation of their positions and analysis.

5. Housing

Four of the 14 new Garden Villages announced by Housing Minister Gavin Barwell this week are in the North – St Cuthbert’s, near Carlisle, Bailrigg, outside Lancaster, Halsnead near Liverpool and Handforth in north east Cheshire. It remains to be seen whether this type of Government-inspired initiative will succeed in delivering the scale of new homes needed.

The evidence, so far, from the public response to the Greater Manchester Spatial Strategy draft allocations is that some communities in many parts of the Manchester conurbation will present a challenge to the politicians in the run-up to the Mayoral elections in May.

6. Transport

We’ve enjoyed working with clients on the importance of transport infrastructure to the growth agenda in the North of England. Strategic investment in both transport infrastructure and services in the North of England to link our cities and their hinterlands will be a critical ingredient to accelerating growth here. As such, we will be looking closely at the profile of spend and indeed fresh commitments to drive confidence and growth.

A key part of the transport debate, and indeed all the points above, will be the ability of a range of stakeholder organisations to work together to best advocate why the North is a national economic priority. This is a process of building the business cases and delivering the messages to the right audiences at the right time.  We will all have a role to play.

From Quatro, we wish you and your families a very happy 2017.