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FACE2FACE: Building a Northern Powerhouse

Napthens’ CEO John Whittingslow joined David Sharpe, President of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the reality of the Northern Powerhouse project and where it stands after a tumultuous few months.

David Sharpe (DS): Let’s start with the latest news on the project – Jake Berry has been appointed the third Northern Powerhouse minister. We’re fortunate because Jake also represents one of our local constituencies. Hopefully Jake will bring a new perspective to the role and bang the drum for us here in the region.

John Whittingslow (JW): Clearly the resignation of Jake’s successor, Andrew Percy, from the role following the poor Tory showing in the election caused concern for the future. Jake’s appointment is in my view a signal that all is not lost and he appears to have support from the three metropolitan mayors for Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Tees Valley.

A recent article in the FT expressed the view that the departure of the Prime Minister’s advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill was also a boost for the Powerhouse as they were two main internal opponents of it. It seems that there is still an appetite to move the project forward.

DS: Maybe the idea had become a little stale. While Brexit and the election rumble on in the background we really do need this brought back into the public arena.

One of the main initiatives that people expect to see come out of the powerhouse project is investment in infrastructure. As a Chamber it’s something we are keen to promote – we are champions of manufacturers and businesses which have to move goods around effectively and efficiently.

JW: I agree, transport links need improving across the north, not just linking the north to London. We need to better connect the cities of the north to each other; Preston, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Lancaster, Carlisle and Newcastle – we have many great cities in their own right.

This should not be at the expense of investment in other public infrastructure across the region, helping the north come together into a collective force making it stronger and more self-reliant.

However, we also need to keep one eye on what we can be doing ourselves.

DS: Yes, it’s still very much business as usual. It’s down to organisations like the Chamber to lobby for and be the champion of sectors like manufacturing and export. Without the Chamber I believe it would be harder to get things done, to get the message through to the Government. The Chamber acts as a conduit for messages to be relayed and for lobbying to take place, to turn into action in terms of focus where investment is needed.

JW: We need to start thinking big for ourselves and try and move away from some of the parochialism that still remains which could end up paralysing the region.

For me, the areas surrounding the north’s major cities need to embrace the concept of creating a powerhouse and support their respective cities. Our region will then move forward on its own, so that the powerhouse initiative will be a boost to momentum rather than a generator of it.

DS: There are plenty of examples where the region has worked hard on major infrastructure projects with the backing of organisations like the Chamber – you only have to look at the Todmorden Curve or the Burnley Bridge project to see the good work that’s being done. Let’s hope the Northern Powerhouse Project can boost the area as much as the work that’s already going on.

Executive team - CEO - John Whittingslow