“There will always be winners and losers in any devolution process”: North England Build Conference 2016

The blog attended at the Northern Powerhouse session yesterday morning during Day 1 of the North England Build Conference at Manchester Central.

Given that the “Conference Room” was simply an open seated area at the back of the exhibition space, both the acoustics and background noise level left something to be desired.

Be that as it may, it was a reasonably lively panel discussion featuring Ben Harrison of Centre for Cities, Alison Gordon of New Economy and Cllr James Lewis, deputy leader of Leeds City Council.

The blog (in the guise of David Vayro!) asked the panel what it thought of the risks around differential economic strength resulting in economic activity being “sucked” towards the bigger stronger cities. There is the example of RedX Pharma relocating its HQ from Liverpool to the MSP site at Alderley Business Park – there is no hard evidence that Manchester’s head start was decisive in that decision, but the whiff of it still remains.

In the midst of some stock political answers around “we have always collaborated together and on this issue it will be no different”, “it’s not for politicians to tell businesses how to organise themselves” there was a clear differentiating line from Ben Harrison.

He made the telling point that not everyone or every area will be a winner under devolution. He wasn’t demonstrating a callousness to those parts of the region lagging behind the curve, but he was making the point that the establishment of the Northern Powerhouse will be in the areas where economic growth and development is strongest, namely the region’s cities. The prospects for the rest of the region will rise (or fall) in response to that.

Ben went on to make the related point that the Transport infrastructure for the Northern Powerhouse needs to have as its principal focus transport networks and links WITHIN the cities and their immediate environs and not BETWEEN them. Connecting the city regions is certainly important, but more important is making the route to and from work and to each other’s place of work within the city envelope more efficient, effective and inexpensive.

So the Northern Powerhouse will only succeed as a network inter- and intra-connected individual city-region powerhouses. And that all sounds a bit more “real world” to this blog….

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