The Northern Powerhouse, An Ever-Spinning Wheel of Doom

The Northern Powerhouse was first introduced back in 2014, almost five years ago, and has been a topic of some controversy since; hitting the national headlines, creating debate in parliament and becoming a discussion point for business briefings up and down the country.

With so much conversation, we catch up with Geoff Shepherd, founder of the Yorkshire Mafia, businessman and entrepreneur, to find out why he feels it needs a whole lot more action!

Geoff comments: “You know when you load a webpage and you see that spinning wheel of doom? For me, this is the perfect metaphor for the Northern Powerhouse. We are told that something is going on behind the scenes, but nothing ever actually happens – you just progress to the next blank screen.

“The reason for the Powerhouse is clear, something needs to happen and it needs to happen fast if the country is to work from an equal playing field with opportunity and prosperity. It’s about fairness and rebalancing the economy.

“The harsh reality is that when you live in the North your life expectancy is lower, your academic attainment is lower, your career prospects are lower, health provision is lower and the one thing that is on the up is that you are more likely to commit suicide.

“Doesn’t make for great reading does it?”

No substance

“The reality is that the Northern Powerhouse is a brand that has been given a huge profile but without any substance to back it up. We don’t really understand its true purpose, we weren’t involved in setting the objectives, no tactics or initiatives have been widely shared and if there have been any results, they are a closely guarded secret.

“As a businessman, I have a vested interest in what takes place in the North, across the Yorkshire region and beyond. Like many entrepreneurs, I work all over the country and I see first-hand in stark clarity that if things are to change the Northern Powerhouse has to quickly deliver a programme of activity that will redress decades of underinvestment and imbalance.”

Conditioned to expect the worst

Geoff continues: “Northern cities and towns have been hardest hit when we review cuts to council spending ,and subsequent austerity, with three of the top four sitting within Yorkshire communities; Barnsley, Wakefield and Doncaster. The statistics provide a picture and a narrative, they share the facts in black and white, the North has been conditioned to expect the worst.

“The attitude seems to be that ‘we’, as Northern businesses, will get on with it. We have proven to be resourceful, innovative, robust and resilient and while these traits are to be commended, they have created an expectation that this will continue, whatever is thrown our way.

A simple comparison

“It’s basic arithmetic; there’s up to 4 times more expenditure per capita for travel and transport in London than in the North – and we can’t even get to work by #NorthernFail.

It’s indefensible. Want to know where the North’s talent is? It’s stood on a platform hoping the trains aren’t cancelled again.

“The Government’s austerity programme is also being subsidised by the North; public spending has fallen by £6.3bn in the North and risen by £3.2bn in the South East and South West.

“Once Brexit happens, EU cohesion funds will disappear, which are there to reduce economic and social disparities, again hitting the North. How are we going to fill that gap?

Without doubt, there’s been a purposeful, long-term, policy of under-investment in the North. Yes, it could be said that the North gets less investment because it contributes less to the economy, but that’s a circular argument and simply highlights the failure of successive Governments and again reiterates that the economy needs rebalancing.

A fairer deal

“Getting the North a fairer deal, whether it is framed as a Powerhouse or not, needs to be a commitment from Government for action, not discussion. Someone somewhere needs to be held accountable for meeting with objectives that we all buy into and support.

“We will have no great privileges as a result of the Northern Powerhouse but what we should expect is to have modern travel systems that are fit for purpose both now and for the future; a world-class education system that nurtures students of all ages; health care provision that can be relied upon and thriving start-up communities (not just in our big cities and towns but in our rural communities too) that create employment opportunities and growth.”

The Northern Nothing

“As it stands, the Northern Powerhouse might as well be rebranded as the Northern Nothing – despite lots of big talk its mandate appears to be to make the North marginally less disadvantaged than it is now. That’s just not good enough. We should all be calling upon those that are accountable to let us know what is happening, what has been achieved, what is planned and how much money has been definitely allocated to it.

“Stop talking and start doing. That’s the message from business. Put the talking into action and then maybe the Northern Powerhouse will have something interesting to offer other than just more hot air.

Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash

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