Could toddler mentality hinder the chances of a Northern Powerhouse.
I am the proud mother of a very strong willed four-year-old who challenges me each and every day with a Steve Jobs like stubbornness and Genghis Khan attitude towards ownership.
The best example I can find to explain this is as follows:
- If I want it, it’s mine
- If it’s in my hand, it’s mine
- If I can take it away from you, it’s mine
- If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine
- If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way
- If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine
- If it just looks like mine, it’s mine
- If I think it’s mine, it’s mine
- If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine
- Once it’s mine it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what
Having survived the past four years of this toddler mentality, and with the end seemingly now in sight (as we approach school age I am praying the word share will no longer be reserved for fairy tales and the stock market) it seems I am now faced with it when looking at the prospect of the so called Northern Powerhouse.
My understanding of the reasoning behind the ‘teaming up’ of the northern cities was to offer businesses, employees and industry an alternative economic hub to London and the south and to rebalance the country’s economy.
Working, as I do, in a small business in the North this would seem like a very reasonable idea and one that could help small businesses grow and access a wider audience on a more national and international scale. As the director of marketing for said small business I can see a whole raft of positive marketing strategies that could arise from this collective approach such as large scale sporting events (think Tour De France and the Commonwealth Games), a series of multi region recruitment drives to draw talent to the whole of the north, perhaps even some joint Yorkshire, Lancashire tourist promotion, or is that pushing it a bit?
However, the more I read about it and listen to opinion I am concerned that this could become a competition between the North and London; a case of ‘us and them’, and should an ‘us’ materialise there seems to be a risk of infighting for positions of power over individual sectors.
Having said that it’s difficult to ever imagine we will lose the north south divide.
Of course London is a symbol of service excellence, a real magnet for business and businesses and we can’t and shouldn’t segregate ourselves from that as we would lose a valuable asset. Whilst at the same time recognising ‘us northerners’ are more than capable of competing with the best of the best.
I recently listed to a podcast from The Bottom Line on BBC radio 4, hosted by Evan Davis (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pdcf6) on the northern powerhouse.
The panel was made up of some key names in business and industry including Vanda Murray of Manchester Airports Group, Wayne Hemmingway of Hemingway Design and Sir Richard Leese of Manchester City Council and Transport for the North.
The focus of the discussions was to consider how a northern powerhouse could “reshape the economic geography of Britain” and in what ways northern cities should work together to make it a success.
Of course transport problems were discussed as a key driver behind this initiative, as highlighted in the Government paper ‘The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North’ but resolving the abysmal journey times between northern neighbours, will not alone ensure we are happy to share a cup of sugar with each other.
I am by no means suggesting we are enemies, goodness knows we are an extremely friendly bunch at heart, but the feeling I got while listening to the Bottom Line was that of a segregated community. Each player at the table brought a different skill, and good corporate governance would suggest that is the best way to build a board so logic says it could be applied to this exercise, but there didn’t seem to me to be any willingness to share those skills across borders, within the team.
What mine is mine and I want some of yours too, but I don’t want to share mine!
Clearly we have some individual pockets of excellence; Leeds and Manchester are financial havens Liverpool is a major city of culture, Sheffield and Blackburn are manufacturing centres and Wakefield seems set to become the Norths ‘creative hub’ with the announcement of the sale of the Rutland Mills site to property developers, City & Provincial Properties PLC. The developer is responsible for Tileyard Studios, a creative media hub based in central London who have plans to create a ‘northern extension’ of the brand (source bdaily.co.uk*).
A collaborative approach to the distribution of these skills and expertise across the north as would be made easier by improved rail inks (just saying) may help us move towards a single voice.
While we are close geographically we must become closer as friends. We must be willing to share what we know and what we can do and not pigeon hole businesses or skilled workers who are considering the north, to a specific region.
Don’t forget the BBC moved to Manchester and HSBC are about to move their HQ to Birmingham, yes Birmingham should be considered the north in this case!
If you want to set up a creative business but want to retain links to the financial sector it is ok to set up in Leeds. If you are a manufacturer but you need access to an international ferry port for distribution you are ok to make a home in Liverpool, we in Sheffield will still be your friend.
Where this collaborative ethos does seem to have been embraced is in Newcastle and the North East, which interestingly enough was considered ‘too North’ by some of the Bottom Line audience. Another discussion for another time.
Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland, to name but a few, make up an ever growing digital realm. A well as being the home to Sage, the region is receiving heavy investment in the promotion of its digital skills. This investment is working to create digital hubs that promote a collaborative and connected approach to growth and development. The businesses all seem to work together, sharing knowledge to create new opportunities for the whole region
The minds behind the northern powerhouse could learn a lot from this ‘team player’ approach. Yes, the focus on improved transport links between the northern cities is the best and most logical place to start, if we want to work more closely we must be able to reach each other without it taking longer than a round trip to London, but we must also work on our willingness to really work together as a whole rather than a group of parts.
If we want to truly become a northern powerhouse, a beacon of excellence that stands proud across a range of sectors and can shape the future of the country and its economy we must learn to share.
BA (Hons) │ Director of Marketing for fds Director Services Limited