Kevan Carrick in Zagreb
Jamie Hardesty

North East Northern Powerhouse insight: Kevan Carrick

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.

This investigation, surveying regional business opinion, hopes to add coherence to the concept and today we’re lucky enough to feature in-depth insight from Kevan Carrick, principal of JK Property Consultants and RICS Policy Spokesperson for the North East.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

The pull of the accelerating economic engine of London and the South East has over many decades been a magnet attracting people and investment at the expense of the regions. The regions have thus suffered from a perception that it repels investment. Grant payments to counter this pull is not the answer since it distorts the property market. There is thus a long wished for realisation that the North of England needs a hand up, not a hand out.

The Powerhouse region has suffered from under investment for decades under all shades of government. Given the dominance of Labour politicians in the North it is ironic that it is a Conservative government that is giving the region the best opportunity for growth in living memory.

This is an opportunity for us to work together, private and public sectors, to work to our strengths and deliver new businesses, new jobs and new prosperity for the region. We need a more balanced North, one that stands on its own feet and doesn’t have to rely on public sector jobs to the extent it has in the past.

Are there signs of the Northern Powerhouse starting to bear fruit in the region?

The Northern Powerhouse can not be an instant fix. It is a longer term game to fix a longer term problem. But we also need some quick wins to bolster support and enthusiasm. Love it or hate it, the term does have some marketing power and if that can put the North of England on the investment map then it’s working.

It certainly has the power to energise the property industry and the interest in the Powerhouse concept at MIPIM should be great. We need to work hard to make certain that the North East gets maximum benefit out of that.

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

Not yet! Just announcing the idea is not enough. That is evident by the hard work from Minister James Wharton. The government needs to be in it for the long term and we need to see more commitment to a fairer funding regime. The IPPR has pointed out the huge inequality in infrastructure funding between the North & London and the South East and although there are signs that this has started to change it is still not enough.

HS2 is a case in point; ending the high speed rail lines in Manchester and Leeds simply told people living North of those regions that they were not worth the bother. Any Westminster-based government must realise it is not about the money it is about ambition and aspiration and having a NATIONAL transport infrastructure network that is fit for purpose.

Transport improvement is intrinsic to the Northern Powerhouse. Do you believe that spending billions of infrastructure will improve Northern productivity?

Not in itself, it will take a lot more than that. A national 21st century transport infrastructure network would enable improvements in productivity but it won’t bring them about. That is all about people and the North East has worrying challenges in that area, despite a reputation for high productivity and adaptability to re-train.

We need a step change in our education system and our skills training for work, we need more leaders, more visionaries, more entrepreneurs, more and better jobs and higher pay. In the past, private sector employers have by and large been happy to leave that up to the public sector but I think things are changing. There is a definite realisation that the private business sector must step up to the plate and work with the education and skills sector to help provide the right opportunities for young people.

There are already at least two initiatives of which I am aware where Colleges and businesses are partnering in major apprenticeship skills training. We have to offer our best and brightest something better, something that will keep them in the region. You can have the best transport system in the world but if you can’t offer people great jobs, great homes, great lives then they will look elsewhere. And if they go – as they have done for many years – then the investors will follow.

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

Getting to, from and moving around within a region is fundamental to attracting investors. There has to be a good balance and if we focus too much on transport infrastructure it would be wasted. An example of what can happen is the M6 toll road where billions were invested but to little effect on any economy. There must be a mix of investment.

Educations and skills training are hugely important, a good mix of the right housing tenures is essential as is lifestyle – we need it all. Even when it comes to transport, it is no use focusing on things like HS2 if we don’t get the local transport right. We need to tell the story globally – that we in the North East are here and open for business with the offers that give the investor confidence to invest.

Does the North East need a mayor? If so, who should it be?

Yes! We need someone ‘business-like’ who embodies our ambitions and capabilities, someone with a socialist heart and an entrepreneur’s brain. Jeremy Middleton is the first to put his name forward. There is a deafening silence from others. We need to shake free from the traditional political ‘knock-about’ and find a strong leader with the best interests of the North East at heart.

Will the Northern Powerhouse be realised in the North East?

Momentum is building but that’s up to us. The North East needs to make it happen and not sit back and wait for it to happen. We should adopt that well known phrase ‘Shy bairns get nowt’ and go out and get it.

Thanks Kevin.

To nominate a North East business leader to take part in our series, contact Jamie at jamie.hardesty@bdaily.co.uk.

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