Sir Roger Marsh: The North is Central to UK Recovery

24th September 2021

Roger Marsh OBE DL

Looking ahead to the Spending Review and the pivotal publication of the upcoming Levelling Up White Paper, the Government is at a clear crossroads.

As a country, we can either proceed with an approach based on Whitehall ‘playing off’ individual places against one other and make do with sub-optimal outcomes, or we can be bold and focus on those parts of the country that have not felt the benefits of UK growth for successive generations, but which represent the biggest opportunity for the health and prosperity of the nation. The North is central to the UK’s national recovery and prosperity.

As the business voice of the North, the NP11 has set out its priorities against the Government’s Plan for Growth which, in addition to investment in transport infrastructure, present the best opportunities to truly level up the North.

These key areas are clean growth, innovation, trade and investment, placemaking and digital, and are closely linked to the three central pillars of the Government’s Plan for Growth: Levelling Up, Global Britain and Transition to Net Zero.

Strong business leadership and public-private sector collaboration is essential to fully delivering each of these areas.

Read the latest politics stories from Yorkshire here.

In 2016, the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (NPIER) found that the North had a persistent economic output gap with the rest of England, with Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita approximately 25% below the average for the rest of the country.

Despite the broader productivity challenge, the NPIER envisaged that under a ‘transformational’ scenario, by 2050 the North could have 1.5 million new jobs in total, with GVA £97 billion higher than under a ‘business as usual’ scenario.

The economic and social impact of the pandemic risks the levelling-up agenda. The North has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with 12.4 more people per 100,000 dying from Covid-19 than the rest of England, and the claimant count 78% higher than pre-pandemic.

Failing to prioritise the North at the heart of the UK’s economic recovery could risk exacerbating existing geographic divides in productivity at huge cost to the UK economy and its people – now more than ever.

The NP11 will soon publish a report in collaboration with the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), which will set out how a second UK life sciences Supercluster, complimentary to the one in the South East, would strengthen the UK’s global offering in the field, build resilience in the UK’s health system, and drive innovation-led growth. Levelling up the entire country, not just the North.

We will only build back better from the current crisis by ensuring that places across our country have the tools and powers to fulfil their potential. Having a clear plan to unlock the North’s potential is critical to delivering on the Government’s levelling up ambitions and giving the 15 million people who live in the North hope for the future.

It’s crucially important that moving forward, investment is done in a collaborative way. Collaboration between public and private sector to maximise impact in the real economy. Collaboration between places, to ensure the levelling up “prize” is greater than the sum of its parts.

And perhaps most importantly, collaboration between national Government and local and regional partners, with activity that is done ‘with’ the North rather than ‘to’ the North.

Although places across the North face different challenges, there are common opportunities which, with the right Government support and investment, will help Northern towns, cities and rural areas play their full part in driving future UK prosperity.

As we look ahead to key dates in the calendar this Autumn, the NP11 looks forward to working with Government to ensure that Northern towns and cities are not left behind, but are transformed into thriving hotbeds of prosperity, innovation and growth. Through close collaboration, we can ensure that northern success becomes national success.

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