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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

The northern powerhouse in action

This report demonstrates that, despite the significant challenges facing it, the northern powerhouse already has the seeds of a flourishing 21st-century economy. It now needs a coherent industrial strategy to help it grow – one that fully understands the northern powerhouse's current economy and its future potential.

To do this, the majority of this report presents seven case studies of businesses, projects or public institutions that exemplify the northern powerhouse in action. These case studies aim to:

  • offer tangible examples of economic activity in a variety of different sectors, and assess the trajectories of these sectors into the future
  • demonstrate the substance behind the rhetoric of the northern powerhouse by highlighting the efforts and ingenuity of its people, businesses and institutions
  • provide lessons from each of the case studies that help to shape an emerging 21st-century industrial strategy for the north of England’s economy.

The case studies we have chosen correspond to the four ‘prime’ and three ‘enabling’ capabilities of the northern economy set out in the recent Transport for the North-commissioned Northern Independent Economic Review (NIER). Taken together, the seven capabilities account for 2.1 million jobs in the region and just over £100 billion in GVA, representing around 30 per cent of all jobs in the North and just over 35 per cent of GVA.

The four ‘prime’ capabilities are:

  • advanced manufacturing – including materials and processes, and agri-foods
  • energy – including generation, storage, and low-carbon technologies and processes (especially in nuclear and offshore wind)
  • health innovation – including life sciences, pharmaceuticals (R&D and production), medical devices, and e-health
  • digital capability – including high-performance computing, cognitive computing, software tools/design and content, data analytics (‘big data’), computer simulation, and wider strengths in media.

The three ‘enabling’ capabilities – which provide essential services to the ‘prime’ sectors but which are also important growth sectors in their own right – identified by the NIER are:

  • financial and professional services – providing key business, legal, insurance and financial services that are vital enablers for the North’s prime sectors, and perform important day-to-day functions which keep the wider economy functioning
  • logistics – ‘particularly linked to port activity and airport development, recognising the criticality of resilient logistics capability and good transport to enable the “Prime” capabilities to perform in overseas markets’
  • education (primarily higher education) – ‘offers research capability and technical expertise that underpins the “Prime” capabilities, provides access to global networks, and also provides a supply of skilled labour and export strengths in its own right’.

For each capability, we have chosen a case study that has national or potentially global significance in terms of the goods, services and technologies being developed and sold. Each case study is scalable, with a potential for significant growth in either employment or GVA for the northern economy, and a pan-northern reach, with demonstrable economic or research links across the North.

Taken together, the seven case studies are:

  • geographically diverse
  • organisationally varied – the case studies represent a mix of large firms, SMEs and projects involving collaboration with the public sector or higher education
  • reflect a mix of economic activities, not just ‘high-end and niche’
  • exemplify the northern powerhouse in action.