berg MD Richard Clark
Richard Bell

North West views: berg MD Richard Clark on the Northern Powerhouse

With the government’s vision of creating a Northern Powerhouse commanding the attention of the North West business community, particularly in the wake of the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition, at Bdaily we’ve decided to run a new series of interviews to establish just what the region’s business leaders think of the plans.

Is the North West set for an overhaul in the coming years – one to turn the region into a true example of economic empowerment through business growth, job creation and prosperity?

Today we caught up with Richard Clark, the managing director of Manchester-based law firm berg.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

The Northern Powerhouse is about establishing the wider Northern region, as a stronger trade and economic area. The ultimate vision is to eradicate the north-south divide we’ve seen for so long and establish the region on the global stage, whether that be in the science and technology, transport, education or professional services sectors to name but a few.

What’s more, it also relies on recognition; recognition that the North of England has professionals with the necessary knowledge and experience to continue delivering economic success.

With so much business landing in the capital and not filtering up to the northern region, the concept of the Northern Powerhouse focuses around ensuring entrepreneurs have access to funding to drive the region and business forward. The aim is not to pull business away from the capital, but to create a viable platform for international business and investment in the north.

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

The Chinese state visit to Manchester at the back end of 2015 is evidence alone that that the North of England is an attractive location for international business and one can only expect to see more visits in the future.

The investment in infrastructure and transport that the Chinese are injecting into the Northern economy can only serve to increase the attractiveness of the region in a business capacity, across a variety of sectors.

More specifically, the announcement that Manchester and San Francisco are to be connected via a direct flight demonstrates further progress in connecting the North, an up and coming start-up region, with Silicon Valley, which unquestionably dominates tech venture capital funding worldwide.

Our region now has an opportunity to reach its true potential in the science and tech space, an opportunity which requires a global mind-set as opposed to a nationwide mind-set; we are not just competing with Tech City in London, but the rest of the world.

The attention of the global scientific community turns to the UK for the first time this year, more specifically Manchester, as the city prepares to host one of the world’s most prestigious scientific events – the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF); clearly demonstrating fantastic progress the city and the wider region is making.

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

The concept of the Northern Powerhouse is undoubtedly still in its infancy; the foundations have been laid and it will take some time, perhaps years, for the region to realise where it sits on the global stage.

There are positive and encouraging plans coming out of Westminster, including HS3, devolution of power and of course Airport City, but these projects need time to progress and become a reality, so it would be too early to make a judgement on them, but the potential for their economic impact is endless.

Furthermore, there must be a realisation that one size doesn’t fit all, for example electing a mayor in Manchester may work for the city, but may not necessarily be the most effective way of running the smaller cities in the region.

Major cities in the region, including Manchester, have seen economic growth already, whilst the other towns are taking longer to emerge from the recession. It is therefore vital that collaboration is encouraged between the cities, using the different strengths, resources and expertise that each area has to offer, in order for the whole northern region to move forward, as one.

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

Without question. The creation of a transport hub in the north of England through increased and enhanced flight paths in and out of the airport and the progression of HS2 and HS3 has undoubtedly brought economic success to the region already, and will continue to do so.

An improved transport network will help residents and visitors to travel in and out of our key cities quickly and easily, be it for work, trade or tourism. We know that this kind of investment can boost productivity and the economic outlook for a region, so it makes sense to invest in our infrastructure if we really want the region to thrive.

However, that said, productivity depends on more than just transport networks and this is the next challenge we face as a region.

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

An investment in skills, education and training and a clear path in the access to funding are also imperative in improving productivity, for example. We are lucky to have a lot of innovative small businesses in the region, but they struggle to secure affordable funding to support R&D and growth.

Whilst this shouldn’t necessarily be focused on ahead of transport, I’d certainly argue for a balanced, holistic approach to investment in the region, in order to create a more well-rounded vision of the Northern Powerhouse.

While Manchester is a key city in the government’s vision, do you think enough is being done to cater for other important North West towns and cities?

Manchester is evidently a huge focus in this vision and is central to the economic success, given its size, economy and business appeal; however attention does need to be paid further afield to Yorkshire and the like, if we want to establish a powerhouse that represents the entire northern region.

The government needs to start connecting the two together, creating a collaborative, hard-working region that become a major player on the international stage, a game-changer if you will.

For all our latest Northern Powerhouse news and views, click here. Share your views and get involved with our latest interview series by contacting North West editor Richard at richard.bell@bdaily.co.uk

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