Northern Powerhouse Perspectives - A Q&A with James Wood | Jackson Stephen

Northern Powerhouse Perspectives - A Q&A with James Wood

3 minutes

In a recent edition of Insider's Q&A series dedicated to the Northern Powerhouse, our ac...

By JS .

In a recent edition of Insider's Q&A series dedicated to the Northern Powerhouse, our accounts partner, James Wood, had the privilege of sharing his perspective on the Northern Powerhouse initiative, shedding light on what it means to him personally. He delves into the crucial topic of devolving more powers to the region and underscores the pivotal role of enhancing transport infrastructure and connecting city centres with their surrounding towns. 

Here we explore James’s thoughts and insights on these vital aspects of the Northern Powerhouse initiative in this engaging Q&A session:

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

The Northern Powerhouse is essentially a microcosm of a wealth rebalance in the UK economy, from predominantly the South East to the North. Though, it's not just about doing this in the big cities, but across the North as a whole, including smaller towns and communities. We've seen some good examples of this in the media industry, where the BBC's move to Media City in Salford has attracted talent to the North and put Salford on the map. Likewise, our clients in the construction industry have performed particularly well in recent years, and this is visible with the mass amounts of construction work happening across Northern cities.

Nine years have passed since the phrase 'Northern Powerhouse' was first coined. Has enough happened since then?

We have definitely seen some improvements with regards to transport links across Greater Manchester. The Metrolink, for example, has helped to connect outer city areas such as Rochdale, Bury and Oldham to the centre. New bus routes to Leigh and redevelopment across other northern towns is further evidence that the ambition for a Northern Powerhouse is moving in the right direction.

But we still can't shy away from the empty highstreets with poor footfall as a reminder that investment, redevelopment and opportunity in the North is not on an equal playing field with the South East. Again, it's evident to see signs of this in the big cities and the construction industry seems to be thriving, but this needs to reach the smaller towns too.

How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?

To some extent, metro mayors have a strong amount of influence, but they are restricted in their power. They still rely on government funding, so even though more of the decision-making power may be in their hands, the actual means to do it is still restricted if the funds aren't there. Whilst we are seeing powerful influences from the likes of Andy Burnham for example, clearly more power is needed for metro mayors to enact changes and help the initiative.

What needs to be done to help the North recover from the Covid-19 outbreak?

A stronger Northern workforce is the key to economic recuperation, and the only way to do this is building engagement in the workplace. We seem to have seen a cohort of people who became 'lost' during the pandemic; the over 50s who took early retirement, those affected by Long Covid, those who lost their jobs or changed careers entirely, or those who suffered with their mental health due to increased isolation. As a result, we have seen a lack of available talent for recruitment which has had an impact on a whole range of sectors. This has caused higher rates of unemployment, but at the same time, some of the biggest recruitment challenges we've seen in recent years.

On top of this, the new way of working during the pandemic exposed us all to the flexibility of work, and how beneficial a hybrid way of working is. We've seen an attitude shift amongst employees, as now people don't want to be, or need to be working long hours. The pandemic showed us all that you can have a better work-life balance now through flexible working arrangements. The priority now is for employers to utilise what we learned during the pandemic to create retention schemes and offer other perks to get people back into the workplace.

What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?

For me, it has to be improved transport infrastructure between the city centres and surrounding towns. In London, the tube network is excellent: it's frequent, fast, and spans across the whole of London and beyond. This allows increased connectivity for those who live in smaller towns to commute into the city and, in turn, spread this wealth to smaller communities. Yet, here in Wigan for example, public transport into Manchester can be challenging. While the Metrolink is good for some, the northwest of Greater Manchester such as Bolton, Wigan and Leigh doesn't have access to this. A reliance on trains is also not always a viable option given the frequent rail strikes we are seeing at the moment.

Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?

It seems to me that there is a lot of focus on cities, but less on spreading the benefits across towns. I would like to think there are regular meetings held between metro mayors and their respective towns to make sure everyone's voices are heard. Ultimately, whilst collaboration is key, I'm unsure how much of this does occur.

How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?

The success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda would greatly benefit JS as an accountancy firm as it creates more opportunities for us in terms of onboarding new businesses who we can support. Through the creation of new business in the region, it would provide JS with more scope and need to manage their affairs. Working with owner-managed businesses and startups is particularly important for us at JS because it allows us to enrol on the client's journey with them from the very start. From building this foundational relationship, we maintain the client for the lifespan of the business.  

In terms of the development of other small businesses across the region, they can, and often do outgrow their accountants. That's where JS can come in and take the opportunity to acquire new, high-growth clients. This is all driven by the growth and strength in the Northern economy. Ultimately, the better the economy, the more need for accountancy firms like JS.