Whatever the complexities of the situation, talk continues of the need to re-balance the economy and stimulate regional growth to drive economic prosperity across the whole of the UK, while it looks like the answer is assumed to always lie in London and the South East.
So it has been encouraging to see the Northern Powerhouse generating interesting headlines and stimulating debate over recent weeks in the lead up to the ICE publishing its Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy report, with a launch event in Liverpool.
There are at last signs that people are taking interest in a part of the UK that could be the driver for reinvigorating a staid UK economy. The North (essentially the North West and North East of England) has a population of 15.2M, has five of the UK’s largest cities, and is home to world-leading universities and entrepreneurs.
And yet is it clearly not performing to its full capacity.
Productivity in the North lags behind the UK average by 11% and it has a higher proportion of unskilled workers. Somber statistics indeed for a UK economy that desperately needs to grow productivity and stimulate sustainable economic growth.
And yet the region has shown it can become a centre of excellence and lead the country in, for example, innovation and media skills, when the investment and the infrastructure to support it is established.
So how can it achieve this status of becoming a leader in economic productivity and deliver the ensuing quality of life?
At the launch of the report, the ICE tabled a number of recommendations including:
- The Northern Powerhouse must create a clear strategy for planning and delivering high performing infrastructure that co-ordinates and integrates different sectors and projects for the best local outcome
- The North must build a co-ordinated approach to funding and attracting investment with a single, informed voice
While the report recommends increasing infrastructure investment and kick-starting the regional economic resurgence, it is not just about more money. Other recommendations included the creation of a Council of the North with cross-representation to oversee the delivery of the Northern Powerhouse vision. Devolving of revenue-raising and borrowing powers is also recommended.
But to realise these ambitions requires active involvement by the ICE, ICE members, and engineers in the wider community.
The ICE report also recommends developing best in class digital infrastructure, a key benefit of which would be to enhance the delivery of projects and servicing, post implementation. We are on the cusp of digitalising the industry and the North could be a pioneer in this respect.
It is important that the government creates the environment that enables all regions of the UK to fully contribute to growing productivity and prosperity. More power then to the Northern Powerhouse.
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