This report investigates how well the North's vital professional and business services sector is performing, the challenges it faces, and how it could be better enabled to support the wider economy.

The north of England relies on its professional and business services (PBS). They are a vital enabler for the North’s ‘prime capabilities’ – those sectors in which the North specialises – and perform important day-to-day functions that keep the wider economy functioning.

Within the North, the professional and business services sector is concentrated in Manchester and Leeds (accounting for almost half of all northern PBS employment). Increasingly, these two cities are complementing one another in terms of their different strengths and acting as a hub for other parts of the North.

However, changes are required: the PBS sector needs to adapt to changes in technology and skills, to ensure that the whole of the North is properly served – either by local firms or those based in Manchester and Leeds – and to provide a northern focus for Brexit negotiations concerning the sector.

The government’s new place-based industrial strategy must unlock this sector’s enabling capabilities.

  • The Professional and Business Services Council should revise the sector strategy to account for its different functions in different places, and this should be integrated with northern and local enterprise partnership-level strategies.
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education should set out a joint strategy for PBS skills, covering careers advice, work experience, and ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship reforms related to the sector.
  • Local enterprise partnerships should support their local education and skills system to develop the skills their local PBS sector needs – especially those that are needed to enable prime capabilities such as health innovation, or advanced manufacturing.
  • Local transport authorities and Transport for the North should prioritise sector-specific requirements as part of the transport planning process.
  • The PBS sector should be represented on a northern Brexit negotiating committee – as previously recommended by IPPR North – and cooperate on international trade delegations.
  • The Professional and Business Services Council should establish a northern professional and business services committee to develop a northern PBS strategy and coordinate between national and local strategies.