Can we hope that business people and politicians are once again thinking about regions like Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West? The Shadow Chief Secretary and Leeds MP Rachel Reeves told a Downtown event in the city a year or so ago that Labour would work with the Local Enterprise Partnership structure. But according to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, his colleague Lord Adonis is devising an Infrastructure Commission that will devolve power to regions as well as cities.
It is high time the prevailing doctrine that cities are the only drivers of the northern economy was challenged. Without a strong regional policy, towns around our big cities are going to suffer. Leading academics of my acquaintance, who support the cities agenda, openly say that people in places like Burnley are going to have to travel to Manchester to get a job in the future.
It was so refreshing to attend a North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) event where we had a chance to survey our excellence in science from Cumbria to Crewe. Present was the Director of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills North West. It is the only regionally based government body to avoid the insane culling of everything else regional by the Coalition when they came to office.
The NWBLT report won’t be launched until the end of next month. It is in draft form and further views are welcome, but the title will be “Exploiting the Excellence” England’s North West: Where World Class Science underpins wealth creating innovation. So you get the drift. It emphasises throughout, not only our heritage of scientific invention, but the large range of science based businesses that can take us forward with the proper support.
The region’s assets include advanced materials and cancer research in Manchester and Liverpool, cutting edge nuclear research in Cumbria, oil and gas research in Lancaster and world class astronomy at Jodrell Bank.
NWBLT Chairman Juergen Maier of Siemens called on government to make it easier for SMEs to access government funds. He added that leadership would be needed as market forces alone would not bring the region’s economy back to health.
Andrew Miller, the Ellesmere Port MP, who has done so much to promote science, spoke of the need for eco systems and catapults! The former refers to the need for businesses to cluster together and feed off each other’s expertise. The latter relates to innovation centres which can help get embryonic science companies off to a flying start.
Of course everything hasn’t been rosy on the North West science front. The decision to locate the 3rd Generation Light Source at Harwell and AstraZeneca’s relocation of its research facility from Alderley Park to Cambridge have been big blows.
Chris Doherty is responsible for the sale and redevelopment of the AstraZeneca site and had some interesting things to say about the company’s relocation decision. Apparently the reasons were far more social than economic. The new AstraZeneca CEO was from California and felt Alderley Park was an isolated place compared to the dynamic environment of Cambridge. Doherty said the site had become isolated from Manchester.
That’s the danger of the City Region policy as opposed to a wider strategy taking care to be aware of Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire’s needs as well as Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester.