Transport, health and skills are top priorities for levelling up, say Northern leaders


New research by Atkins and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, in collaboration with Durham University, sees a “huge” role for business in achieving regional rebalancing and ‘levelling up’.

While essential funding and facilitation will come from central government, Northern leaders recognise that “long term gains (especially in productivity and the creation of jobs) should come from the private sector”.

The findings are based on 18 direct interviews with senior leaders in the North, as well as more than 100 responses to an online survey.

There is a high degree of confidence that businesses will deliver and 95% say that “private businesses are key to achieving planned infrastructure projects.”

While no single issue dominates, many talked about the need to ‘level up people’ and skills and the future workforce was most commonly selected (45%) as a current challenge – with 18% selecting it as their top challenge – followed by inequalities (38%), health and wellbeing (35%) and transport (35%).

While greater devolution was popular among those interviewed, local powers to raise taxes were viewed as more difficult politically.

The research also shows that while appetite for the term ‘levelling up’ itself has waned, the principle behind it commands wide support.  

Richard Robinson, Atkins UK and Europe CEO, said: “Improving transport links and systems helps unlock economic opportunity by improving the connection between growing and struggling economic hubs.  

“With infrastructure we help create better and more efficient places for people to live and work in, mindful of the impact the built environment can have on social behaviours, health and well-being.  And as a major employer we offer an extensive apprenticeship programme for young people, recently welcoming  170 apprentices, our largest number ever.”

Kieran Fernandes, Durham University Business School, said: “Regional rebalancing has been a long-held aspiration of consecutive UK governments and a long-held need for the North of England. The research, which has been inspired by the government’s recent Levelling-Up agenda, is timely, informative, and impactful. 

“It is timely because it comes at a moment where there is increased attention to the inequalities between the economies and living standards of the North and the South.  It is informative because it illustrates where these differences lie and what the region’s key decision makers think about them.  Finally, it is impactful because it provides clear and unequivocal evidence of the urgent need for investment in the region’s physical and digital infrastructure as a medium for bridging inequalities and enhancing economic and social progress.”

Henri Murison, Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Bringing together the North’s civic and business leaders as the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, we know the role of Atkins and the wider business community is critical for the North. The continued commitment of all our members is a unique commitment to work collectively for the betterment of the North;  the economic and social value they create as businesses can and should change our places for the better, and for good.

“As we look forward to the future, listening to the opinions of the leadership of local government in the North is a valuable reminder that the Northern Powerhouse is still relevant to them – just as it is to Northern business leaders.  In fact, those who lead our places in the Tees Valley,  through West Yorkshire to Liverpool City Region and up the M6 felt more favourably in embracing it than the term ‘levelling up’.“

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