North East Northern Powerhouse insight: Andrew Mears, Solutions Recruitment
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 regional figurehead to take part in our investigation is Andrew Mears, a director at Newcastle-based Solutions Recruitment.
What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
It is encouraging and driving better collaboration between key business leaders and institutions in our region. Certainly at some of the events I have attended recently, getting these groups of people into the same room together has been a bit of a challenge, but they are starting to get out there and share their thoughts.
I think that will encourage more collaboration. I believe economically we are stronger and more effective if we collaborate, and the Northern Powerhouse is helping to facilitate that.
Are there signs of the Northern Powerhouse starting to bear fruit in the region?
Without sounding like I am repeating myself, getting business leaders and figureheads into the same room together to pool their collaborative knowledge and resources, has already started to bear fruit.
At a local level, I think the Government has been quite surprised at the response it has got from the top 250 business leaders from our region sitting in the same room making it clear that we want to be a part of the Northern Powerhouse, and that it could benefit our region economically.
Has the Government done enough to convince you of its commitment to Osborne’s vision?
My instant reaction is no. If I look at Greater Manchester as a Northern Powerhouse, and that is the benchmark, I think they have taken the agenda to Westminster rather than Westminster being proactive in supporting Osborne’s vision.
I appreciate there is a responsibility on us to really lobby and say we want to support what Osborne is trying to do, but I haven’t seen enough to say that Westminster is 100% behind him.
That goes back to collaboration. We are guilty in this region of being too fragmented. We need to come together and speak with a collective voice like Greater Manchester has to put pressure on Westminster to deliver on Osborne’s vision.
Transport improvement is intrinsic to the Northern Powerhouse. Do you believe that spending billions on infrastructure will improve Northern productivity?
Yes, 100%. It really is a no brainer. I have travelled a lot and seen the benefits to cities all over the world whose infrastructure is more advanced than ours.
I use Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as an example. Amsterdam may be the capital city but it is not the seat of government, and with respect The Netherlands is not a major superpower. But Amsterdam has deliberately created a major transport hub which has delivered phenomenal commercial success to the region.
Manchester is the same. It has fashioned a major international network. Just recently, Virgin announced more direct routes to the US in addition to the ones it already operates out of Manchester.
We have to have good transport infrastructure at the heart of what we do. Accessibility in and out of the region is a must. If we don’t have it then we will be left behind. We will be regarded as an outpost rather than as a key economic centre.
The rail network is another area of concern. It is not good enough that it still takes three hours to reach London. We need the high speed link.
Are there any other areas which you believe money should be spent on ahead of transport?
Skills, which is a really general statement, but we need to ensure we are providing the relevant routes to employment. There is no one size fits all solution to this problem, but investment in apprenticeships, degrees, training, specialist qualifications and re-training will all help improve employability and economic strength.
Investment on marketing is also important. And by that I mean as a collective group or region, promoting this part of the world as a place where you can live and do business. We don’t sell ourselves. We do little bits of good promotion, but we as business leaders have a collective responsibility to come to the table and talk with one voice about why you should live and work in this region.
Does the North East need a mayor? If so, who should it be?
Yes. But the honest answer is that I don’t know who it should be.
I suppose what I believe is that it needs to be someone who isn’t biased in any one political area, someone who will collectively represent the interests of both the public and business communities, and someone who really has the best interests of our region at heart.
But whoever the first mayor is, it will be a non-job. In reality, their job will be to deal with the issues and changes that devolution will bring, so that the next incumbent has a far better chance of delivering the successes decentralisation could produce.
Will the Northern Powerhouse be realised in the North East?
I’m honestly not sure. There is enough collective brain power and desire to make it happen and to give it the best possible chance of working.
But I think there needs to be more demonstrable commitment from Westminster to Osborne’s plan for us to get enough support behind a Northern Powerhouse at a local level.
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