What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
While so many of us feel fiercely proud of our Northern roots and the continued success of the region – and rightly so – I actually struggle with the term, ‘Northern Powerhouse’. I think my unease stems from the fact that it feels like government rhetoric – something that makes us sound like we’re playing second fiddle. There’s no ‘Southern Powerhouse’ after all. Maybe I’m overthinking it because I work so closely with the communications sector. But from a brand point of view, I don’t like the name it’s been given.
I prefer to think of the Northern Powerhouse as a successful collective of sector-wide organisations that genuinely believe we are as good as our counterparts in any other part of the country – and prove that via the achievements we secure. The creative community is particularly strong here, although this is only one example.
Eight years have passed since the phrase was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
In terms of geographical parity, I think the fact the term still exists shows that there’s still more to be done – there’s still something of a North-South ‘divide’. However, speak to many people throughout the region, from owners of large organisations to freelancers and employees themselves, and they don’t feel as though they’re working towards a Northern Powerhouse – they’re already living and breathing it.
In our industry, for example, the BBC and Channel 4’s relocations to Salford and Leeds, respectively, are huge signals that the North is an exciting place to be, and that giants such as these don’t see the South as being intrinsic to their futures. We should celebrate moves like this.
But as the owner of a business situated between Leeds and Manchester, I am acutely aware of the slightly competitive language still used between the towns and cities throughout the region. From a communications point of view, if the Northern Powerhouse is to really pack a punch, I think we need better collaboration to define a combined voice. That would make it more impactful, surely. There’s also still work to be done to recognise and connect the different areas throughout the North – it shouldn’t just be about linking us up with the South.
How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
Again, from a communications perspective – a stance I will naturally take given my role in the business community – I think the mayors proved themselves to be vocal and passionate, particularly during Covid-19. They helped to ensure the Northern perspective wasn’t forgotten, which is absolutely a positive step.
What needs to be done to help the North recover from the Covid-19 outbreak?
This is a difficult question to answer because it perhaps presumes all businesses need to recover, and also that the quandary relates only to the North. However, we know that some sectors were particularly hard hit irrespective of geography, for example, while others boomed during the pandemic and have remained busier than ever.
For me, the focus should be on providing industry-specific support to organisations who were less resilient over the last few years – regardless of their location. LEPs provide access to growth advisors, for example, but this expertise would be all-the-more impactful if these individuals came from the industry of the organisation seeking the help.
I’ve been involved in an insightful piece of research recently, where creative professionals expressed their hunger to feel reconnected once again. They’re struggling to access the business support they need, so what does the Northern Powerhouse mean to them? Probably not a lot. I don’t think this will be a theme isolated only to this sector – people want to talk, learn and share again, with likeminded and empathic individuals, beyond a virtual setting.
Fiscal challenges associated with energy prices and inflation are surely also going to be a talking point for quite some time – again irrespective of postcode. This is another huge pressure facing companies who have already ridden out one of their worst storms yet, so help will be needed here, I’m certain.
What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
For me, so many conversations still happen at such a high level, that they simply don’t resonate with the layperson. If it meant more to members of the general public – stakeholders in the Northern Powerhouse – surely we would all get behind it.
I’d love to see a more human-centred approach to communicating what it means, to everyone, so that we continue to keep the sentiment alive, long into the future – whatever its status on the political agenda. It still feels like too much of a top-down approach.
Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
It would take a sweeping statement to answer this question succinctly. There are some fantastic examples of collaboration at a local level, but I do think more needs to be done, culturally. Take the friendly rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire, with examples even within the counties themselves, if you look at Leeds and Sheffield, for instance. And I bet many towns on the periphery still feel like the poor relations. We have to remember how far the Northern Powerhouse stretches too – it’s vast, so collaboration is no mean feat. A need for improvement therefore shouldn’t be considered a criticism – we should simply always keep pushing for better.
How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
If there was more sector-specific support, such as access to tailored expertise to fuel business investment and the development of people, then I think things could get really exciting.