North East Northern Powerhouse insight: Wayne Halton, Director at MHW
In an ongoing series, Jamie Hardesty is talking to North East business leaders in an attempt to understand the region’s feelings towards the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative.
The next name to fall under our spotlight and take part in our investigation is Wayne Halton, director at Newcastle-based MHW PR.
What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
It’s about having a greater say in our own destiny, being better able to handle the control levers to drive the direction we want the region to take. It’s about accepting and taking responsibility for the social and economic wellbeing of the majority of people in the North East.
Are there signs of the Northern Powerhouse starting to bear fruit in the region?
Only the political establishment and large corporate and organisational structures currently seem engaged and aware of devolution; here, there is evidence of positioning for what might be about to come. Awareness of the concept, let alone understanding, seems low across the wider regional community. Elsewhere, the Treasury announcement to provide a JEREMIE 2 fund exclusively for the North East was great news.
Has the government done enough to convince you of its commitment to Osborne’s vision?
No. I worry this is political spin, a great PR ruse by a Tory government to silence the north, give it some spurious autonomy (that it’s always cried out for) and also play politics with the Labour party in its traditional heartland. Ultimately, the wider north will be stuck with Westminster policies and budgets that it can only tinker with. It smacks of politics and less about improving equality and rebalancing the economy.
Transport improvement is intrinsic to the Northern Powerhouse. Do you believe that spending billions of infrastructure will improve Northern productivity?
I’m a little bemused by the theory that a wider, faster road to Edinburgh will stimulate the NE economy. I do believe Newcastle International Airport and our ports are strategic assets that deserve greater support, along with Tyne and Wear Metro. Improved links and connectivity with a better national rail network would help, but this doesn’t appear to be on the agenda in this region.
Are there any other areas which you believe money should be spent on, ahead of transport?
Skills and education. Our policy makers need greater autonomy to shape bespoke courses to meet the particular needs of employers and growth sectors in this region. Outstanding organisations like Gateshead College are already making some impact here. I also think we shouldn’t ignore the ‘softer’ things like arts and culture that can really define a region, giving colour and personality while also creating direct employment, encouraging tourism and further investment.
Does the North East need a mayor? If so, who should it be?
The region needs a powerful, effective voice, that’s for certain; one that can motivate and build consensus and then battle for the North East, both in Manchester and at Westminster. Sadly, the region has already split into two administrative LEP areas, so at best we will have two voices! I would love to see an independent minded leader for the North East LEP area, one with a social and business bias.
Will the Northern Powerhouse be realised in the North East?
Right now it’s difficult to see what this will look like. Our Labour politicians are struggling to rise above petty local rivalries to reach any consensus. Ultimately, something will emerge but its shape and effectiveness will be determined by strong, focussed leadership which seems lacking right now.
At the moment Northern Powerhouse is a slogan with little substance.
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