We are suffering, as a nation, from poor productivity, holding back our international competitiveness, not to mention people’s wages. The South East has excessively high house prices and a shortage of skilled labour, whereas the North suffers from a lack of investment. Both regions will have sub-optimal levels of productivity as a result. There is clearly a strong case for rebalancing the economy and the Northern Powerhouse concept is surely part of the solution in addressing this. NEPIC has established strong connections with the other major chemical clusters in the UK: Humberside, North West and Scotland. This enables us to promote trade between these centres and share best practice to raise productivity.
The North is home to over 15 million people and one million businesses. The Northern Powerhouse lets people make the best decisions for their regions, with investment and support to match. For better connections, infrastructure is critical. I’ve committed £45 million to transform our two major train stations. Darlington will be futureproofed for HS2 services, with increased local and national links, alongside Middlesbrough’s capacity improvements. Azuma trains are running from London to Leeds and will be rolled out across the network, giving faster, more frequent Northern services. Sitting on Transport for the North’s board allows me to align our priorities and shape these pan-regional connections. Bringing our local airport into public ownership lets us improve international connectivity in a way that’s beneficial for the Tees Valley and wider North.
Despite talk of a Northern Powerhouse, it’s fair to say the North of England still suffers from under investment compared to our Southern counterparts. The main successes in relocating investment from the South to the North, for example MediaCityUK in Salford, predates the programme. That said, there is an opportunity to become a European centre for technology. With better regional fibre connectivity we can not only drive inward international investment from global players such as Facebook, Twitter and Uber, but also improve B2B partnerships and communications across the North of the country. As a regional business owner, I hope this opportunity is not missed.
For us the Northern Powerhouse has always been about redressing the economic imbalances in the country and enabling regions such as ours to reach their full potential. This means not only improving our access to markets through major infrastructure investment, but also a shift in economic decision making away from Whitehall and into the regions. We’ve seen some progress, but we’re nowhere near where we want to be. Governments for years to come will need to reaffirm their commitment to improving the northern economy and demonstrate real action to make this a reality.