Just outside of Warrington there’s a laboratory owned by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading manufacturer of human identification forensic kits. On a recent visit there, I was fascinated to hear how courtrooms from Belgium to Botswana rely on evidence collected using these kits to help put criminals behind bars. Thermo Fisher Scientific is just one example of an innovative Northern Powerhouse business making products for the global stage.
Of course, northern innovation is not new. Take music, for example. It’s the North that bred world-renowned bands – The Beatles, The Smiths, and the Arctic Monkeys, to name just a few. Take science and engineering – in Newcastle the humble light bulb was invented, and Charles Parsons created a series of turbo-generators to produce the fastest turbine-driven battleships in existence in the 1890s. Take scientific innovation – it was Nobel Prize-winning researchers at the University of Manchester who first isolated graphene, the thinnest material ever created but 200 times stronger than steel. Throughout our island nation’s story it is our northern makers, innovators and disrupters who have driven our economy forward.
Today the North is home to more than 15m people and over 1m businesses. The Northern Powerhouse has an economy bigger than Sweden, Norway, or Belgium at £316bn. It’s where I grew up, it’s where I studied and where I live and work. For me – and the government – the Northern Powerhouse is not just an abstract term but something to really sit up and take notice of. It’s the belief that the great cities, the towns and rural communities of the North can work together to become a global powerhouse. At its heart is the belief that the Northern Powerhouse can be greater than the sum of its parts – not to simply rival the South but to ensure we can play our part as brothers and sisters in arms as global Britain takes on the world.
Since my appointment as the Northern Powerhouse Minister, I have journeyed across the North visiting every region and in every person that I have met, and in every place that I visited, I found an unwavering determination for us to create a North that works for everyone.
From innovators launching their new businesses, to students mid-way through their chemistry degrees, to aerospace engineers at the top of their profession and political leaders of all colours, they know the Northern Powerhouse is more than just rhetoric.
The North may face challenges, but the potential of every town, city, and rural community across it is unrivalled. The North wins the quality of life argument every time. We now need to create a world-beating economy to match.
Since the Northern Powerhouse was launched only three years ago we have seen an extra £8bn added to its economy, over 400,000 new jobs, and large increases in international investment.
We have invested £3.4bn into projects to boost local economic growth across the North – money that has gone directly to local business and civic leaders – to spend in ways that they think best suit their towns, cities, and local communities. New, directly-elected mayors across the North now have wide-ranging powers and an extra £2bn. For the first time in living memory we are returning powers to the regions of the Northern Powerhouse.
Small and medium-sized businesses across the North are getting off the ground and growing thanks to funding from the £400m Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund. And work to turn the Northern Powerhouse Rail vision into reality is full steam ahead. We allocated £60m funding in 2016 to develop plans that will help radically improve connectivity and inter town and city journey times, supporting the northern economy. By 2020, we will have invested £13bn in transport across the North of England. For perspective, that’s more than any previous administration.
We’ve done all this so that more and more companies like Thermo Fisher Scientifics have the right tools and conditions to start up and flourish across the region and on a global scale.
In recent months there’s been a step up in optimism and momentum right across the region. Just last month in the Tees Valley I got to see first-hand with the Prime Minister the real, tangible progress we’re making through collaborative relationships across the North. We heard plans for how the £400m investment fund – allocated by government to the Tees Valley mayor and local authorities as part of their devolution agreement – was going to transform the local economy, create more jobs, and encourage more businesses to start up and grow.
This is not about battling London for a bigger slice of the cake; it’s about making the cake bigger in the first place. It’s not a competition between the North and the South; it’s a partnership of equals.
A strong, prosperous northern economy will benefit not only the people of the North, but the whole country. If we continue to work together, across city and political boundaries, the future for the North looks very bright indeed.