Kevin Byrne
Jamie Hardesty

North East Northern Powerhouse insight: Kevin Byrne

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.

Kevin Byrne, Managing Director at Seymour Civil Engineering, is the latest North East business leader to give his take on the initiative.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

The way I see it, the whole idea is that it forms part of national policy in order to level out the regions within the North and to the make the area as a whole more attractive to investors and workers.

We need the high quality jobs to attract high calibre people, and to do that you need a positive, well-funded, well-managed and well-planned regional mandate.

As a construction business I see it as an absolute positive. Our business is infrastructure, so any improvement in that is welcomed with open arms. I think it will cause an upsurge in construction demand.

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

There are certainly lots of positive moves, but we are still at what I’d class as the sub committee stage. People are positioning themselves for glory rather than actioning anything at the moment.

It seems to me that there’s a jigsaw lid – but not so many pieces just yet. That’s not a negative, I just feel there is still a lot of work to be done.

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

The jury is still out on that one at the moment, but I accept that there has been a serious distraction with the EU Referendum.

In order to convince us of their commitment, the Government needs to limit the size of London by improving the regions. This is a policy that is generated out of need rather than a gift.

I think the only obstacle in it is how we get connections north of Leeds. You can see how the North East connects as a region, but I think it is very important that we don’t become a sub-branch of a Northern Powerhouse.

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

Absolutely undoubtedly. The ease of movement makes the region far more attractive and efficient, and that is something which will encourage inward investment.

Our infrastructure here in the North East isn’t always as bad as is often made out. I remember working in the North West, and if I had a meeting in Liverpool from Manchester I could be out all day.

Where we are here in the region, I can visit a project in Stockton or Darlington, come into Hartlepool, go back to Middlesbrough and then maybe Newcastle. It isn’t uncommon to have six or seven meetings throughout the working day.

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

With the exception of health and education, the sooner we start spending money on infrastructure the better in my opinion.

There will actually be socio-economic benefits from a better infrastructure across the North. We already have the fundamental basis of integrated transport here in the North East, but strategic improvements will go some way to making us a market leader.

Let’s invest to finish rather than invest to start.

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

As far as I’m concerned I’d be in favour of a mayor.

A strong, credible local figurehead. I think well connected mayors can read and address local issues and make decisions based on localism rather than national policy.

Who should it be? I sat next to Jeff Stelling at the Hartlepool Business Awards and his passion for the region shines through. Look at his rant about Middlesbrough from a couple of years ago. He’d be ideal.

Will the Northern Powerhouse be realised in the North East?

The Northern Powerhouse will be realised as it is Government policy as opposed to a wish. However, the benefits the North East takes from it will be a direct function of our own engagement. Everyone needs to embrace it. Put up or shut up. That would be my take on it.

Thanks Kevin.

As our series is drawing to a close, Bdaily would like to reiterate its thanks to the North East business community for actively participating in the Northern Powerhouse debate and in helping to understand what the Government’s initiative means for the region’s businesses.

Look out for our upcoming interview with Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton in the coming weeks as we look to round off the series.

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