20/10/17 – Call for Evidence: Education and Skills

A region’s biggest asset is its workforce, and investment in the north needs to focus on skills as well as connectivity.

This was stressed in the 2016 report of the National Infrastructure Commission and the same theme has been taken up by experts in both education and economic development. An analysis by the OECD found that improving skills levels across the population, particularly among those with ‘low or no’ qualifications, was a priority for regional growth in the north of England.

For this reason, Business North has launched a new Call for Evidence.

The call is open until 31 December 2017. However, submissions sent before the end of October 2017 will be collated for a short statement ahead of the Autumn Budget. Submissions of no more than 3,000 words, can be made in writing and sent to north@ippr.org.

22/09/2017 – Business leaders await transport transformation commitment

  • Government support for Transport for the North’s Strategic Plan will be next milestone
  • Autumn Budget represents huge opportunity for transformational announcement
  • Transport Secretary open to putting Transport for the North on a par with Transport for London

Business leaders gathered in Manchester for the Business North Autumn Forum, at which the Transport Secretary spoke, continue to wait for reassurance that the government is taking the North’s connectivity challenge sufficiently seriously according to Business North.

The business group however welcomed the Minister’s acknowledgement of the key role of Transport for the North in determining the strategic transport infrastructure plans for the region.

Chris Hearld, Chair of Business North and KPMG’s North Region Chair, said:

“Capital investment in northern infrastructure would represent a serious, strategic investment in tackling the UK’s productivity problem and rebalancing the economy.

“After today’s visit by the Transport Secretary we still await ambition from government that is in proportion with the scale of the connectivity challenge in the North. It is, however, clear that the next milestone for securing the step changes we seek will be the granting of government support for Transport for the North’s strategic plan, so it was good to hear this is firmly on the Minister’s radar.”

Phil Jones, Business North member and Chief Executive of Northern Powergrid, said:

“We are all looking forward to the forthcoming publication of the Transport for the North plan. This should represent the start point for making significant investment decisions. These need to be taken with some sense of urgency, in order to get long term plans on track.

“We continue to be of the view that giving Transport for the North greater power to make progress on this essential work needs to be a key part of the overall approach taken by government. It was therefore good to hear that the Minister will consider giving Transport for the North similar powers to Transport for London.”

Allison Page, Business North member and Office Managing Partner at DLA Piper, Leeds, said:

“We welcome the Transport Secretary’s promise to the business community in the North that his door is always open to us. He can be assured that business stands ready to work with government and Transport for the North to unlock economic potential, as outlined in the Business North three point plan. It is this wider economic context, as opposed to piecemeal investments, on which we are focused as we make our own long term business growth plans.”

Business North is a united voice, open to all northern business leaders who believe unlocking the North’s economic potential is a national priority.

In August it published a three-point plan to tackle poor connectivity in the North and invest in northern infrastructure links by calling the transport secretary to:

  • Commit to reversing the underinvestment in northern infrastructure with a programme of new investment.
  • As part of the government’s industrial strategy, modernise its project appraisal methodology by broadening the scope to include wider economic benefits, in order to prioritise unlocking new growth.
  • Move towards the further devolution of fiscal powers and decisions about transport in the North to Transport for the North and elected leaders from across the North, working with Transport for the North with a view to seeing it put on an equal footing to Transport for London in due course.

Chris Grayling was speaking at the Business North Autumn Forum: a gathering of over 120 business leaders from across the North of England.

The forum also discussed education and skills issues in the North and launched its latest call for evidence on how the skills system is holding back economic growth in the region.

22/09/2017 – Business North Autumn Forum

Our next Business North stakeholder meeting will be our Autumn Forum which will be held at the offices of DLA Piper LLP in Manchester from 10am to 1pm on Friday 22 September.

The event will include updates about our transport campaign and Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan but the focus of the meeting will be on Education and Skills. Invited speakers include Jake Berry, the new Northern Powerhouse Minister; Sir Nick Weller, head of the Northern Powerhouse schools review; and Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England and head of Growing Up North.

Sign up to attend our Autumn Forum.

22/08/2017 – Northern business leaders unite on case for infrastructure investment


Ahead of a major conference of northern leaders and businesses, Business North calls for improvements to the North’s “creaking” transport infrastructure.

Businesses from across the North of England have united behind a new policy case, urging the government to commit fresh investment for its promised “Northern Powerhouse”.

The policy paper, produced by Business North, argues investment in the North’s transport infrastructure should be seen as imperative to the region’s ability to fulfil its economic potential.

Business North calls for the government to:

  • Commit to reversing the underinvestment in northern infrastructure with a programme of new investment.
  • As part of the government’s industrial strategy, modernise its project appraisal methodology by broadening the scope to include wider economic benefits, in order to prioritise unlocking new growth.
  • Move towards the further devolution of fiscal powers and decisions about transport in the North to Transport for the North and elected leaders from across the North, working with Transport for the North with a view to seeing it put on an equal footing to Transport for London in due course.

Business North brings together businesses from KPMG to Northern Powergrid and Peel Group, through to business groups like the northern branches of the FSB and CBI, and regional chambers including the Greater Manchester and West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Commenting on the policy paper, Chris Hearld, chair of Business North and KPMG North Region Chair, said: “Business North is clear the region urgently needs capital investment to update its creaking transport infrastructure.

“Such investment is essential if we are to improve our connectivity and unlock the region’s huge potential, and bridge the current productivity gap.

“It would allow us to attract and retain brain power in our cities and towns, enable us to more efficiently transport our world-class goods and services across the region to the rest of the UK and beyond, and help us to maximise the North’s green energy potential.

“We are resolutely positive about the case for northern investment – Northern prosperity means national prosperity.”

The news comes as business leaders and politicians of various parties in the North expressed concern at the downgrading of investment in northern rail.

These groups will meet at a Transport Summit on 23 August to discuss their response to the Government’s announcements.

George Beveridge, chair of the Cumbria LEP, said: “Inter-city connections are important, but many of our businesses in the North are in rural areas and they also need improved connections to thrive. Tourism businesses in the Lake District are seeing more Chinese visitors as a result of a collaboration with Manchester, a great example of pan Northern working together. So the cancellation of electrifying the Windermere line, allowing more direct services from Manchester airport, was a great disappointment for businesses in Cumbria.”

Ed Cox, director of the IPPR North think-tank, added: “If the Northern Powerhouse is to really fly, it needs two things: firstly, to be led by businesses and stakeholders up here in the North, rather than Whitehall.
Secondly, we need to see fresh capital investment to help the North of England rebalance the UK’s economy. This includes a high-speed link between Northern cities, alongside investment in links with smaller towns and skills training for all ages to meet the challenges of automation.

“This potential is here in spades but now we need real action to unlock this huge source of untapped prosperity as we look to leave the EU.”

Phil Jones, Chief Executive of Northern Powergrid, concluded: “I think that what’s new here is the breadth of the growing consensus that the ongoing failure to seriously pursue game-changing investment in the north doesn’t make economic sense for the country as a whole. It’s not just businesses with a direct interest in the transport sector – the conviction is there right across the business community that better transport links, coupled with investment in skills are top priorities for increased competitiveness in the north.”

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.

© Business North