Northern Powerhouse: a new pub or an economic policy?

A BBC survey shows nearly two thirds of northerners have never heard of – or don’t know what the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse is…

Imagine the scene: pollster stops man in the street in Manchester and asks if he’s heard of the Northern Powerhouse? Answer: “Is that the new pub on Deansgate?”

While some may think the idea of creating an economic force to equal London is like trying to push treacle up hill, it’s also a tad patronising.  Southern johnnies telling the Northern masses what’s good for them has a long and dishonourable history.

All in all, however, from a communications and engagement point of view, I’m not sure it is critical whether people in the North (cue stereotype of flat headgear and skinny racing dogs) know about the policy or even whether they’ve heard of it.

Indeed, spending money promoting the concept ‘up North’ would simply be a back-door way of spending money on the Conservative re-election campaign and the attraction of doing that for George Osborne, the leader-in-waiting and would-be PM is obvious.

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Investment in infrastructure will be helpful and promoting the region – if you can ever unite the counties of the red and white roses – will also be important. But what is crucial is an externally facing business and investment campaign outside the UK to inward investors across the world.

If Northern England is to compete with regions in Europe, then the communications must be targeted at  so-called ‘foot-loose’  investors for whom a flexible workforce with world-leading skills is a prerequisite, coupled with good infrastructure and travel connections. They also want their ex-pat employees to feel safe and secure and be well-served with excellent education, hospitals, culture and natural environment.

It’s all to play for. But I just wish the Northern Powerhouse concept didn’t sound so Westminster-driven and condescending.

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