“I grew up with the cliché that if it wasn’t happening in London, it wasn’t happening at all.”
It was with these words that Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to develop a northern economy that could rival London.
18 months later, over a thousand business moguls, politicians and council members arrived in the city to discuss what should happen next.
The delegates were at Manchester Central for a two day conference that organisers billed ‘the biggest commercial conversation in a generation’.
While some were eager to know how exactly the region can rival London – a city with an annual economic output that matches the whole of Saudi Arabia – the more sceptical attendees thought that the concept is nothing more than false hope being pushed to secure northern votes.
Listening to John Prescott at The Northern Powerhouse Conference in Manchester. Very forceful speaker! pic.twitter.com/2WluZrnKY2
— Richard Glover (@rjgsquirepb) 25 February 2016
After all, this is not the first time that the Government have promised to tackle the north-south economic imbalance.
It was a theme that ran throughout the New Labour and Conservative-Lib Dem governments that came before.
Richard Duddell, from the Rochdale Development Agency, works to bring in new business to one of Greater Manchester’s most deprived towns.
“At the moment it’s been a lot of announcements and a lot of publicity and now it needs to start to deliver and become more of a reality,” he told MM.
“I’ve worked in regeneration for 25 years and I’ve seen versions of this come and go over the years but I do think this one has the potential to make a change.
“There does seem to be more of a political focus on it to actually make things happen. I’m hopeful about this one.”
It cannot be denied that political pressure has been applied in certain sectors.
The Department for Transport is already making steps to improve the rail service across the north, calling for Northern Rail to upgrade every train in their fleet.
MM met with Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Northern Rail, to find out what part the company is playing in creating the Northern Powerhouse.
— Ashley Rogers (@GillandShaw) 25 February 2016
“We have to buy brand new trains – that has never happened before, we’ve always had someone else’s hand-me-downs,” he said.
“When I started we were the worst train operating company in Britain according to Transport Focus and we’re now better than the industry average and we’ve done that with relatively little investment.
“In January 2020, the service that we provide to our customers will be unrecognisable.
“Whilst George Osborne remains in the treasury, I think momentum will continue to build but he could go under a bus next week so that’s why Transport for the North has been established.”
Transport for the North has been set up to create a comprehensive strategy which will cover the roads, rail and airports of the entire region.
“The first thing is that businesses and small businesses need to understand what’s coming and get behind it,” added Mr Hynes.
“For instance, if you are a small business in Rochdale then your ability to get workers into the town will be enhanced by what we are about to do.
“You can’t currently go from the north of Manchester to South Manchester by train. The Ordsall chord links those and that means we’re going to be able to operate new services like Rochdale to Manchester Airport direct.”
The Ordsall Chord, will see the creation of a new viaduct to link Victoria station to Oxford Road and Piccadilly.
— Tom Burlaga (@TomBurlagaLSH) 26 February 2016
“The Northern Powerhouse as a project may or may not work, but one thing is for certain, the north is going to get a load of new trains out of it because they’ve already been ordered,” said Mr Hynes.
With promises of improved transport and better links between towns and cities, MM asked several small business owners what the Northern Powerhouse means to them.
Oliver Fletcher, who owns Rubber Soul Hair Salon in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, said that he doesn’t buy into all the hype around the plan.
“I perceive the so called Northern Powerhouse initiative to be yet another spin tactic from yet another out of touch London centric Tory Government,” he said.
“No information has been provided for us small business owners to dissect, therefore the Northern Powerhouse can only be perceived and dismissed as a hollow, patronising promise.”
Matthew Travis, a small business owner from Rochdale, added that he thinks the government’s plans exclude thousands of firms in the north.
“It seems to me like it will only benefit businesses in the city and all of us on the outskirts would just be left out,” he said.
“To actually benefit from it we’d need to move the business into a big city and that’s not something we can afford to do.”
Image courtesy of the Conservative Party, via YouTube, with thanks