Manchester boasts to be at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse, to be the UK’s most economically diverse city region, the country’s second largest economy, to have a significant digital presence and is predicting that the levels of job creation in the city will outpace cities such as Berlin, Tokyo and Paris by 2020.
At our latest regional leaders’ lunch, held in the city, we asked our guests if they are witnessing this prosperity first-hand and if so what tangible benefits are they observing and also is the economic growth reported by Manchester being emulated across other Northern cities?
If prosperity is reflected by the level of new build commercial and residential properties then Manchester is certainly up there. In terms of total high-rise crane count, apart from London, Manchester has the highest number in the UK and with 14,000 residential units across 48 developments currently under construction it is recognised as one of the fastest growing cities in Europe.
Wayne Close, Managing Director – BUPA Health Services kicked off the discussion with a very positive advertisement for any business considering a move to the north. Even though 70% of BUPA’s business is international they have always had a major presence in Manchester. Increasingly over the last 10 years it has proven to be easier to recruit, in particular, compared to their office in Staines. Today they have a state of the art building in Salford Quays, one of their key global sites, and home to 2,500 employees.
Will Manchester spawn a radial trickle effect to benefit other northern towns and cities?
Alan White – NED for Fruugo, an online retailer, was born and bred in Manchester. He commented that as recent as 1995, there were less than 1,000 residents actually in the city centre. Today the trend of city living has increased to the point where there is almost an imbalance of supply and demand. Manchester has proven that if people live in the city, then the city can thrive 24 hours a day.
Alan believes much of the credit must go to the local council and politicians who were progressive and far sighted in developing a strategic framework for the city.
Perhaps an interesting question is whether the success of Manchester will spawn a radial trickle effect to other northern cities or towns or will it result in greater infighting and competition for resources and inward investment.
Sue Grindrod – Chair Liverpool Waterfront Business Partnership is in no doubt that Manchester has got its act together whilst Liverpool is still working out how the 5 boroughs can work together under the combined authority. She doesn’t believe Liverpool has benefitted from ‘a radial trickle effect’. Liverpool has a personality of its own and has grown organically with some notable successes such as the Knowledge Quarter. However, more work is needed to attract sectors such as technology and bioscience.
David Waite, Finance Director for Northern Gas Networks spoke from a Leeds/Yorkshire perspective, where, compared to London, there is a lack of investment in infrastructure, including trans-Pennine links, which could use renewable technologies such as hydrogen. However, where Manchester has excelled over other northern cities is in its public/private partnerships.
I would encourage business leaders to support and get involved in local universities.
Sean Canning – President and Chief Operating Officer Customer Management, Firstsource Solutions picked up on the benefits of the trickle effect Northern Ireland has had from foreign inward investments into Dublin. Today, areas previously with unemployment problems are now recording figures of high employment. Sean believes in the trickle effect and any investment into Manchester is likely to benefit other northern towns and cities such as Blackburn and Preston
As a business that employs 6,500 people across 24 locations in the UK and Ireland, FirstSource Solutions only have 400 people in the North West. Many of his clients in the telecoms, financial services and utilities sectors struggle to recruit customer management staff in London or the South East. His response to this is; they should look in the North West, North East, South Wales and Northern Ireland, which all offer high calibre people at competitive salary levels.
There was a general belief from our guests that one of the most significant advantages Manchester has is its universities. Wayne Close of BUPA was very clear in his view that the universities infrastructure and population gives Manchester a real edge in producing talent that can serve a diverse set of skills.
Becki Smith, Marketing Director for N Brown Group, primarily an on-line fashion retailer, finds they are competing in Manchester against a range of other digital online retailers such as Shop Direct in Liverpool, Missguided and the very successful Boohoo.com. The demand for digital talent is outstripping supply and it is a constant battle to keep good people and to hold salary levels at a sustainable level.
In our experience many of the best graduates we find are from the Universities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, not Oxford or Cambridge.
Graduates with workplace experience often from sandwich degree courses come to us with more relevant skills than those perhaps with a Classics degree. It is also important to retain a sense of vibrancy and our location in the popular Northern Quarter certainly helps attract young digital talent.
Kathryn Heywood, Senior HR Director for Smith & Nephew agreed wholeheartedly that Manchester has benefitted from its university hubs. However, the transport infrastructure connecting it to Leeds and Liverpool still lets the whole of the North down.
Simon Butterworth Group Safety Director, Manchester Airports Group suggested that the infrastructure created in the 19th century should be replicated today with digital as well as canals, railways and road infrastructure being at its core. For the Northern Powerhouse to work, connectivity is essential.
The growth and activity at Manchester Airport is very apparent to those living and working in the north, but it is surprising how the strategic importance of the airport and the significant competitive advantage it delivers for the region is overlooked by London based politicians. This needs to be addressed.
Over the recent years there has been a positive move northwards by the media sector, with BBC and TalkTalk now firmly established in Manchester. On-line retailers such as N Brown, Boohoo.com, Missguided and Shop Direct have all originated from the North West. Their respective needs and consequent development of talent in digital and technology has played to the strengths of the local universities (in particular Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford). The graduates of these universities would seem to be very attractive to employers. A technology hub has been created which is self-perpetuating. It is vital local and central government recognise this and continue to invest in infrastructure, such as residential homes and transport links.
The success of the North West is founded on infrastructure developed in the 19th century.
Following our event The Northern Powerhouse has celebrated its 5th birthday since conception on 23rd June 2014, at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum, where, the then Chancellor, George Osborne declared government would “make the cities of the North a powerhouse for our economy again.”
However, many in the northern cities still feel that London and the South-East remain at the front of the queue for transport investment and policy. Which was further endorsed recently when the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham called for “the North to be at the front of the queue for the next 25 years”, if there is any chance it will be able to contend with the South in terms of transport infrastructure. Citing that Westminster seems unable to accept that the North is worthy of reaping the benefits of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Perhaps it is therefore a case that the Northern Powerhouse isn’t yet a “story of success”, but more a work in, very slow, progress!