In the latest instalment of Insider’s Q&A series on the Northern Powerhouse, Sir John Harman, chair of Huddersfield Unlimited, discusses what the initiative means to him, the need for a wider regional strategy across the North, and why the North should be the government’s top priority.
Name: Sir John Harman
Company: Huddersfield Unlimited
What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
Huddersfield Unlimited’s remit is to showcase Huddersfield as an appealing location for culture, business, education and living, as well as to attract investment from further afield, so to us, the Northern Powerhouse should mean the opportunity to provide extra investment to the region to increase prosperity and improve the future for business, people, services and more. Currently, however, it appears to be just a statement of intent by government to direct more public investment to the Northern regions with the aim of raising long-term economic performance and reducing the current and widening economic imbalance between North and South East. It is not a policy, as its implementation and funding are not adequately developed; it’s a political statement.
Eight years have passed since the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
No. Insufficient thought has been given to the systemic requirements of the North and the level of investment has been insignificant in comparison to the impacts required. Most of that investment has been channelled through mayoral/devolution deals which have been worthwhile but have often been just a repackaging of existing funding.
A serious focus on a regional policy for the North would dwarf the commitments made in this period. The government has made many promises to the North and broken them. Perhaps now that we have a northern based Prime Minister there will be improvement in this regard.
How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
While the metro mayors’ local knowledge and focus has enabled more effective use of the limited investment, the scale of funding, as highlighted above, has just been inadequate. Also where is the wider regional strategy across mayoral boundaries?
What needs to be done to help the North recover from the Covid-19 outbreak?
This is really a whole UK economy question. In so far as the North has special requirements, these arise from lower incomes and fewer employment opportunities etc., so the cost-of-living crisis and its social consequences will be more severe in much of the North. This just brings into sharper focus the already evident need for ‘levelling-up’ but it doesn’t change the underlying nature of the challenge.
What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
We need positive investment into the Northern Powerhouse region for true levelling up and for this to happen, the North of England needs to be a higher priority for the government than any other region of the UK. This has to be guided by a clearly articulated Northern economic strategy and appropriate governance which puts it in the hands of regional decision makers.
Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
No. More can always be done, especially in sharing resources across the region more equally as existing arrangements favour competition for resources over collaboration. Focusing solely on our existing and growing city centres isn’t the answer. A stronger cross-regional governance framework with clearly articulated outcomes is required.
How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
Huddersfield Unlimited wishes to see the prosperity of the town of Huddersfield increase to better take advantage of its strategic position at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. The upgrade of the TransPennine route is a positive start, which will cement the town’s strategic advantage at the centre of the North’s main transport corridor. However, more needs to be done and we will continue to press for investment in the whole East-West route which is vital to the entire Northern economy.