I was recently involved in an excellent and lively debate on the North-South, post-Brexit divide with Newcastle University and Res Publica. This is an annual Newcastle University event. The key points from the discussion were:
• SME-University collaboration
• The skills gap
• Devolution and double devolution
• Transport infrastructure: HS2 and HS3
• The Northern Powerhouse
Crucially, the conclusion of much of the discussion was that the efforts behind the Northern Powerhouse initiative is an ongoing processes rather than single events, and that silver bullets for the problem do not exist.
There has been considerable progress since 2010: the Northern Powerhouse,cross-regional cooperation in health, tourism, transport and so on have been key levers and we are already seeing the green shoots of change. The greatest increase in the economically active population has been in the North East. The greatest increase in employment has been in the North East.
But as the Chancellor Philip Hammond made very clear: we cannot rest on our laurels and we have a long way to go to solve the issue. There are political obstacles along the way: whilst the Greater Manchester area has embraced devolution and these forms of cooperation, integration and synergy, many other areas, including parts of the North East have so far backed off from embracing devolution.
This is going to need cross business, government, academic, and local political cooperation and action but conversations have been and continue to be very positive. There was much optimism on this issue in the room, and I believe, quite rightly.