It has been just over five years since George Osborne first coined the term ‘northern powerhouse’ to describe his vision to unite the cities of the north and inject new investment to help regenerate the region.
How would he have gone about doing this? The answer appeared fairly straightforward: by creating modern transport links, improving digital connectivity, devolving power and increasing investment – all in the hopes of fuelling powerful economic growth.
Five years has given us an insight into the massive potential of this project and we have seen great progress being made to reach this overarching economic goal. However, as with all large-scale undertakings, progress has not been without its hurdles and criticism.
A scan of recent stats offers a good indication of the achievements made since the project was launched. For one, the Institute of Public Policy Research North reveals that employment in this region has increased around 7% compared with the UK average of just over 6%, since 2014.
Infrastructure lies at the heart of connectivity and is a key factor of economic growth
Meanwhile, economic growth in the north has been higher than the national average, at 10.7% during this same time period, compared with 10.6% for the UK as a whole and 9.7% for the UK excluding London.
However, the analysis also revealed some shortcomings, most notably the fall in quality and reliability of transport; almost one in every 20 transport services was either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late arriving at its destination in 2018-19.
Shortcomings such as this suggest there is a lack of spending in crucial areas that could prevent significant progress being made.
Progress has most recently been thrown into doubt by the government’s announcement of a review into HS2 and its potential. However, given the construction that has already been undertaken, and Boris Johnson’s public support of large infrastructure projects, there remains overwhelming support for HS2 as an investment that will bring long-term prosperity to the region.
Mimicking Osborne’s original pledges, at the end of July the newly elected PM unveiled plans to fund a high-speed rail route between Leeds and Manchester, claiming that the benefits would be “colossal”.
A solution that focuses on improving the underlying infrastructure of the north is certainly welcome; indeed, infrastructure lies at the heart of connectivity and is a key factor of economic growth.
More generally, this pledge shows Johnson’s determination to direct more attention and funding to the north of England. This is particularly important given the scale of investment currently being funnelled into high-growth cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds by private developers.
The PM has signalled his intentions to rebalance power, growth and productivity across by boosting public services, creating more affordable homes and giving local areas more responsibility and accountability.
While it remains to be seen what concrete actions will be taken to back up these promises, it is encouraging to see the northern powerhouse being planted firmly back on the government’s agenda.
Jerald Solis is business development and acquisitions director at Experience Invest