Steve Crow, business development director with Leeds law firm Clarion.
Nick Hill

What a Northern Powerhouse in Yorkshire means to: Leeds law firm Clarion’s Steve Crow

As Bdaily’s Northern Powerhouse series continues to give the business people of Yorkshire the opportunity to voice their opinions on the the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, we speak with Steve Crow, business development director with Leeds law firm Clarion.

With more than 30 years’ experience working with a wide range of leading professional services firms, during which time he has developed a deep understanding of the economic landscape, Steve recently attended the UK Northern Powerhouse Conference.

So let’s find out Steve’s take on a Northern Powerhouse in Yorkshire.

Hi Steve, so what do you think the Northern Powerhouse will do for Yorkshire?

I believe that we will be far more effective if we join forces and work together as a region, it is only by doing this that Yorkshire will be able to compete with other regions like the South East and be successful in attracting inward investment. Rather than the Northern cities competing against each other, we need to adopt a genuinely joined up approach, playing to one another’s strengths and reminding people that, together, we are still a force to be reckoned with. We need to remind ourselves of the power house the region has been and arguably still is - with a combined GNP ranking potential of 10th in the EU, we have a great platform to build upon. It has been calculated that the northern regional economy is twice that of the Scottish economy.

Not only will a united Northern Powerhouse be more likely to attract central government investment in essential infrastructure like transport, we will also be able to collaborate more effectively with the 30 universities across the North to ensure that their skills and research support private enterprise.

What will the Northern Powerhouse do for Clarion?

Clarion will benefit from working in a strong and vibrant regional economy where collectively we invest in the components for future success such as infrastructure, education, resources, knowledge and innovation. Whilst we will continue to support businesses to innovate and collaborate to achieve growth success we need to encourage the region more broadly to understand and capitalise on world beating competences that could be leveraged for regional success.

If the Northern Powerhouse realises its potential, it will be a real catalyst for inward investment. At Clarion, we already work with many inbound organisations and international blue chip companies with UK operations – if we can attract more overseas firms to the region, it will be a huge boost for businesses here.

Has the government done enough to convince you of its commitment to Osborne’s vision?

While the cynic in me would say that the concept of the Northern Powerhouse may originally have been a political move to win votes, I think it has gained some momentum and its success or failure lies very much in our own self-belief to want it to succeed. If we can formulate cohesive plans and put forward coherent business cases with clear vision and strong leadership, I think the Government is ready to listen. There is a willingness to support the North, but we need to break down barriers and persuade Westminster of the tangible benefits we can deliver.

Connectivity has been a major driving force behind the Northern Powerhouse. Do you believe that spending billions of infrastructure will improve the economic climate in the North?

Within 40 miles of Manchester, you have Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire – a belt of cities and towns that contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London.

Bring those cities together, connect Liverpool to Hull, the North West to Yorkshire and the North East – and the whole will be greater than the parts.

When you look at the relatively short distances between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield and the other regional hubs, it seems absurd that it is so difficult and time consuming to travel between the North’s largest cities. There’s no doubt that the transport systems are woefully inadequate and I think the starting point to strengthening the North’s economy has to be improving connectivity within the region. We then need to look at our links with the rest of the UK and beyond – having Manchester Airport so close is a huge benefit on which we should capitalise.

What, if any, other sectors/industries should the government key in on to achieve a Northern Powerhouse?

It’s about understanding where there are traditional skills and competencies across the region which still have relevance in the world economy today. For example, with problems such as growing obesity and the issues surrounding an ageing populations, healthcare will remain a key sector and, historically, the region has strength in depth across much of the supply chain.

The North has a real competency in advanced manufacturing; we need to optimise this by moving up the supply chain and using our advanced engineering skills. We are great at innovation, but we need to make sure that we are able to commercialise it.

Are there any other areas which you believe money should be spent on, ahead of transport?

Transport is a key consideration, but I think we also need to focus on strengthening links between private business and academia. One of our most impressive assets is the quality of our universities in the North, particularly the N8 Research Partnership which brings together eight of the most research intensive universities in the region. If we can better harness and embed their innovation, aligning their research with the private sector, it will enable us to compete more effectively in the global market.

As with the Sheffield, should the other regions in Yorkshire try to strike a devolution deal with the government?

Yes, but we need to be careful that we do not create lots of small ‘fiefdoms’; we need to ensure that our focus remains on working together towards the wider Northern Powerhouse. In order to compete effectively on the world stage, we must avoid confusing the message and instead communicate as a single entity. Certainly greater devolution of power to the regions will allow for more effective joined decision making.

Will the Northern Powerhouse be realised in Yorkshire?

It will if the powers across the North are mature enough to trust each other and overcome old rivalries. There is now a genuine desire to join together for a greater purpose – we need to convince central government to invest in the North, enabling us to attract more overseas investment. From what I have seen, the region’s leaders seem to be talking to one another and starting to build trust; we need to believe in the strength of the North rather than being bogged down in outdated sub-regionality.

Thank you Steve.

Don’t miss our latest Northern Powerhouse coverage here. To nominate a Yorkshire business leader to be part of our new series, contact Nick at nick.hill@bdaily.co.uk.

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