31/05/2017 – May Steering Group meeting

1. Activity Updates

Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Industrial Strategy round table

BEIS hosted a lively discussion with an engaged audience, which focused on skills, education and transport. References made by the host, Lord Prior, Under Secretary of State at BEIS, to creating a virtual city of 12m and a wider region of 15m in the North were welcomed by the steering group.

However, the group expressed disappointment that there was no offer to get involved re devolution in Yorkshire, its perceived business benefits and the imbalance in the North due to the lack of it.

Business North chair, Chris Hearld provided a brief Business North response to the Industrial Strategy to Lord Prior after the event. The group understands that BEIS has received 2,500 responses to its consultation on the Industrial Strategy with every single point touched on named a top priority by someone. It is hoped that priorities will be made rather than trying to do something on everything.

The group expressed interest in collating the responses from Northern businesses to provide a pan North summary of priorities.

Andrew Percy meeting

Chris Hearld’s key takeaways from the introductory meeting he and George Beveridge had with the, recently resigned, Northern Powerhouse Minister was that he focused more on local government matters rather than on macro North issues. Again, it was understood there would be no involvement in devolution in Yorkshire.

The group agreed to seek to collate feedback across the industrial, Northern Powerhouse, housing and schools strategies aiming to capture a Northern place-based overview. This will be used for influencing purposes, especially in the context of anticipated BEIS Industrial Strategy dominance.

CBI North East dinner

Feedback was that the NE has more internal areas of focus such as devolution and the time is ripe for greater engagement.

2. Northern Powerhouse Partnership

Simon Nokes, Managing Director of New Economy, and Henri Murison, NPP Director, introduced the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) group and its activities.

The NPP is an independent body, launched in September 2016, that aims to be a voice owned by the North and heard by government to drive the NPH agenda forward. Its current board is represented by large corporates and public bodies and its aim is to add intellectual firepower to the discussion and work in partnership with other Northern groups.

The NPP has already published a first, scene setting, report (available here) and plans two further reports later this year focusing on unlocking potential in key sectors and on education and skills. Reports for next year will cover infrastructure and Mayors.

They confirmed the NPP was at very early stage of talking to London First about activity relating to the Industrial Strategy and also issued a plea that organisations don’t badge any/all positive news for the North as achieving the NPH. This term should be reserved for long term transformational change so as to not devalue the concept.

3. IPPR North update

After introducing some of the recent IPPR North reports – tech, energy and health, Ed Cox shared his belief that the NPH brand will weaken and efforts to achieve North economic objectives will be via the Industrial Strategy. To general consensus among the group, he outlined a position where the North focuses more on finding and securing its own solutions rather than producing content to influence central government.

He encouraged consideration of a mezzanine tier of government as the route for self-determination, in common with other developed nations; a Council of the North. He believes this would address a fundamental problem that lies behind many of other symptoms of poor productivity in the North – lack of institutional capacity to respond to big global challenges.

4. Transport for the North – Skills Research Project

KPMG has been working with TfN on a transport skills gap review. The group was encouraged to participate in and share information about the consultation events and to feed any information on to TfN.

Since the meeting, TfN’s review has concluded and the evidence for the Strategic Action Plan has been published (available here).

5. Structure of the Steering Group

The group continues to wish to be inclusive and recognise the 300 businesses so far interested and willing/able to be involved to different extents. This leans away from a subscription membership. A sponsorship model may be considered.

Churn on the steering group was welcomed. Some framework should be put in place for how people get onto it and how large it should be.

Without dedicated resource Business North will have very few outputs and thus a relatively low profile. Not ideal but content production was not an objective, as opposed to being the business voice.
Without any dedicated resources to create content, Business North’s profile will remain relatively low. However, content production is not our primary objective, and higher level involvement from a wider range of organisations will do more to raise our profile and help us in providing a united business voice for the North.

The matter will be reflected on further.

6. Cultural Audit

Discussion relating to the idea that cultural assets may do well to link up was postponed.

Exhibition of the North – business engagement is sought but the 29 May deadline for ideas was tight.

7. September meeting

Date confirmed as 4 September. Venue tbc.

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