Business leaders in the North East raise pressure on next Government for devolution

Research from IPPR North suggests widespread backing for devolution for the North East as a priority after Thursday's election

Grey's Monument stands out in the Newcastle City Centre skyline
Grey's Monument stands out in the Newcastle City Centre skyline

Business leaders in the North are raising pressure on whoever makes up the next Government to commit to devolving powers to the region.

Research carried out by the IPPR North think tank, supported by Newcastle-based law firm Ward Hadaway, has found widespread backing for the “Northern Powerhouse” agenda, in contrast to attitudes to regional devolution exhibited by businesses elsewhere in the country.

The study, which will be sent to Ministers shortly after Thursday’s election, highlights fears that the North East could be left behind if powers for a devolved North are centred solely around the “M62 corridor” linking the North’s two largest cities, Manchester and Leeds.

The research comes less than a fortnight after a business breakfast held by The Journal highlighted the appetite for regional devolution and greater powers for the North East.

All three major political parties have highlighted plans to boost the Northern economy in the run-up to the election, but there are concerns that pledges being made before Thursday’s poll might not come to fruition in the long-run.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: “There may be a degree of caution in general in the business world about English devolution, but it would appear that Northern businesses want to see the Northern Powerhouse go full steam ahead.

“During the course of our research so far, we have heard some strong arguments in favour of bringing economic decisions closer to the needs of local businesses to enable them to do more of what they are good at.

“We also heard some major concerns expressed about the economic dominance of London and the skewed public and private investment that seemed to cause.

“Far from being tentative about devolution and its potential effects, many of the businesses which we spoke to right across the North were enthusiastic about the idea and welcomed the prospect of regions being given a greater say in how they run their affairs.”

Over the last month, IPPR North has been carrying out one-to-one interviews, conducting round table focus groups and inviting responses to an online survey to find out what companies across the North East, Yorkshire and the North West think about the devolution.

A wide range of businesses, from SMEs to major nationwide companies, have taken part in the research.

Along with widespread support for devolved powers to the North, the research has highlighted concerns in the North East that much of the emphasis on the Northern Powerhouse has been on Leeds and Manchester, with the potential for those cities to dominate devolved resources.

Last month, The Journal hosted a devolution event which saw more than 100 people from the worlds of business and politics debate issues around regional devolution.

A panel of experts fielded questions on how the region could potentially benefit from increased powers around transport, training and skills, and economic growth.

Jamie Martin, managing partner at Ward Hadaway, which has supported IPPR research, said: “Devolution and the Northern Powerhouse agenda has the potential to radically reshape regional economies right across the North and bring in some profound changes about the way in which issues such as transport, investment, skills and housing are dealt with.

“This has clear and important implications for every business in the North, particularly for one such as ours which has offices across the North, in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester.

“As a Northern law firm for national business, we have a real stake in the future of the North’s economies so we think it is vital that the voice of Northern business gets itself heard in the devolution debate, particularly as we stand on the brink of a new government.”

IPPR has completed its round table discussions and one-to-one interviews, but is still taking opinion from businesses at its online survey.

The poll can be completed at http://bit.ly/npsurvey2015 .

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