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.”