This year, IPPR North’s annual State of the North report looks to the long-term future and asks a simple question: How will we know whether the ‘northern powerhouse’ is working?

Even prior to the idea of the northern powerhouse gaining common currency, no witness to the north of England's evident resurgence could defensibly say that it was a region trapped in decline. However, all parts of the country – and indeed all sub-national regions across the developed world – face a series of challenges. Some are rooted in the past, and others will be thrown up by the changes to come.

This report assesses the state of the North as it is, but also what it could, and should, aspire to become. It presents an analysis of the North’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Standard economic metrics such as levels of economic growth and productivity paint an important picture. Yet they don’t necessarily paint the full picture; neither are they always entirely helpful in planning for the future. For this reason, this report presents four tests for the northern powerhouse that are designed to promote the idea that with greater control over economic development, the north of England can nurture a more equal, resilient and sustainable economy.

We believe that the northern powerhouse can be proclaimed a success when the following four tests have been met in the North. Within each test we also set out 11 clear, unapologetically ambitious benchmarks against which the powerhouse's progress can be judged.

  1. The northern powerhouse must generate a better type of economic growth, one that combines rising productivity with more jobs and higher wages for all.
  2. The northern powerhouse must liberate the potential of its greatest asset – its people – through huge improvements to the development of skills, starting with the very youngest.
  3. The northern powerhouse requires investment in future success, particularly in terms of enabling innovation and building the infrastructure we need for the 21st century and beyond.
  4. The northern powerhouse must rejuvenate local democracy by giving people a genuine involvement in the way the north of England is run.

At the beginning of this new parliament, and with the northern powerhouse in the ascendancy, our ambition for this report is not so much to provide detailed policy prescription as it is to set out something of a vision for what could be achieved for and by the people of the North. We offer them, in the spirit of optimism and ambition, to stoke new thinking within the burgeoning northern powerhouse debate.