BDO has this week set out its Northern Powerhouse toolkit, outlining practical steps for northern businesses to play their part in driving the initiative forward.
At a time when we’ve seen people seriously question the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse because of the investment in London’s Crossrail 2 just days after the electrification of lines in the north was abandoned, we look at the ways businesses can take matters into their own hands.
Ed Dwan, partner and head of accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, said: “The launch of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was extremely encouraging; however some businesses remain in the dark on practical actions they can take. We need to be much clearer on what these are if it is to succeed beyond rhetoric. Of course we need to see support through investment in infrastructure but business leaders should also make their voice heard on big policy and write directly to government to express their opinion. We believe that mid-sized businesses are the engine of the economy; they are driving growth, employment and wealth creation and, as such, should have their voices heard. They can lead by example and make a practical difference today. It is by engaging organisations to understand its own role in the bigger picture and through collective action; we can all help to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.”
Join forces from the top
To be successful, the Northern Powerhouse must be a collective mission. It must energise the army of mid-sized businesses in the north. Talk to each other and agree what good looks like for your group or sector. It must be driven by the many, not the few, if it is to succeed beyond rhetoric.
Collaborate with the competition
The Industrial Strategy report that followed the Northern Powerhouse conference outlined the economic benefit of clusters. Businesses should be proactive in creating sector powerhouses and a means by which they can interact with others within their industry, whether engineering, manufacturing or media. They must work together to problem solve and share ideas. These groups can be used to mentor the next generation of sector stars.
Be open to new funding solutions
It’s vital that advisers equip management teams with a deeper knowledge of the funding streams available to their business. The ability to access funding is crucial for small and mid-market businesses to exceed growth expectations which, for many, is likely to come in a form other than ‘traditional’ banking.
Try to avoid the temptation to hold back on investment in favour of a ‘wait and see’ approach while we wait for certainty. Political uncertainty is the new norm and if the Northern Powerhouse is to succeed, businesses must get on and do, and they must do it now.
Invest in our cultural legacy
Businesses must not underestimate the value of investing in arts and culture, creating a legacy for the north. Businesses must view investment in communities and culture as part of this crucially important bigger picture. While Hull’s Capital of Culture has been hugely positive for the city, and Manchester’s Factory arts building is an incredibly exciting project, businesses must join the government in taking the initiative in providing investment for important projects.
Promote lifelong learning
The north benefits from thousands of graduates, including overseas students, attending top Universities; individuals whose skills are of enormous value, and whom we should be encouraging to stay in the north. The labour market must also be made more accessible by providing greater opportunity for skills training for older workers and non-economically active groups (NEETS), such as women returners and minority communities.
Digital skills are particularly crucial and, given the speed of technological change, these skills need to be updated constantly. Businesses can increase the highly skilled workforce they need, bolstering economic growth and productivity by investing in a diverse workforce to take advantage of the strengths of different generations.
The biggest benefactor will be the economy.
Open dialogue with universities to innovate
The north is home to nine of Europe’s leading universities; centres of excellence in a host of specialist subjects and leading the way in world-class research and development. Businesses must be more proactive in opening their own dialogue with universities, creating opportunity through partnerships, pooling expertise and creating a mechanism for knowledge sharing and collaboration that equates to business growth and greater innovation.
Build the brand
The Northern Powerhouse is a global brand. Core to its success is the ability to attract inward investment and export across the globe. Businesses should be proud of their achievements, sharing success with the world and boosting the reputation of the north as a prosperous place to do business.