Hamish Dunlop of Progress Network North West reports from their recent Northern Powerhouse debate.
The drive forward for positive change coupled with the North’s bright outlook formed the tone of the insightful evening. A huge vote of confidence in the North from international investors such as DONG Energy was a strong message which emanated from the panel. Moreover, the panel consciously addressed non-transport related topics and unflinchingly voiced clear imbalances within the UK economy from a societal perspective.
As such, the IPPR’s statistics presented by Grace Blakey pinpointed disparities in healthcare, housing and general life expectancies which existed due to a lack of holistic investment from our government. This was attributed to our political system being one of the most centralised institutions within Europe.
Topical discussions surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to nationalise water, electricity, gas and the railways brought to question whether such intentions could have an adverse impact upon the Northern Powerhouse Agenda. The benefits of private investment and Private Finance Initiative (PFI) models was advocated, especially as much of Manchester’s property boom stems from foreign investment.
Such investment has emanated from investors undertaking joint ventures and channelling capital into seemingly worthless plots of land creating new urban hubs for the region. Furthermore, the panel highlighted good examples of PFI and faulted mismanagement at the procurement stage with poor lines of accountability as to why there are bad instances of PFI. Ultimately there was a general consensus for devolution, as it is an innovative and grass roots financial mechanism to deliver infrastructure for the benefit of the general public.
Unsurprisingly, the role of technology within the Northern Powerhouse coupled with the exploration of improved practices by the movement away from old habits were discussed. Darrell Matthews acknowledged engineering’s problem to retain young talent whom are more likely better apt at harnessing such technology.
Additionally, he raised the key future challenge of digital infrastructure and businesses investing in new fibre internet. The UK needs to re-balance its roll out of high speed broadband as often new businesses have to wait for months before they can have access to wifi, which is detrimental to enterprise and e-commence in the North.
Athena Livesey hailed Elon Musk’s Hyperloop as a new technology to shorten journey times and to improve connections between Northern cities. The Hyperloop could mean 12 minutes from Manchester to Liverpool, and is a new form of transport just waiting to bought for the benefit of the North.
Finally, comparisons were drawn between countries such as China. China has rapidly industrialised and grown exponentially by investing in their country as a whole and building powerhouses throughout their regions. The UK should take note of this blueprint, so we can fairly recognise contributions across society as a whole and united island.
Hamish Dunlop is chair of Progress Network in the North West.