Yorkshire Business Insider Powerhouse Perspective

Our managing director, Luke Allen, spoke to Yorkshire Business Insider last month, to outline what the Northern Powerhouse initiative means to him, the need to focus on smart cities, and the importance of nurturing and retaining talent.

In case you missed the original article, catch up below.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

For me, the Northern Powerhouse is all about harnessing what may be one of the biggest hotbeds of innovation in the country.

We’re starting to see a migration of what were previously dubbed ‘London capabilities’ into the region, and in turn are attracting a myriad of talented people who want to come here to study and work.

Although I’ve been involved in building software development teams in the North since 2005 – and there has always been a rich pool of talent – it has only recently truly begun to thrive, mainly due to an influx of investment and ideas.

Six years have passed since the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was first coined. Has enough happened since then?

I’m seeing amazing infrastructure coming to the fore – and not just in terms of HS2. The connectivity between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Hull is improving as we ‘level up’ and begin to seek opportunities for people to work collectively across our cities.

You also can’t miss the shift in the number of businesses which are relocating to the North because of our localised skills, improved transport links, and way of life – particularly in comparison to 10 years ago, when it was a real challenge to attract and retain talent.

For many years, we struggled to entice enough applications to roles at eviFile (based just outside Leeds city centre) but now we have three to four solid candidates for every position on offer. The facilities, infrastructure, and volume of organisations here has had a knock-on effect on the talent we attract – people proactively want to work in the North.

How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?

It’s been transformational. Leeds is completely unrecognisable from when I moved to the city in 1990 Back then, there were huge, derelict areas which are now being transformed into vibrant workplaces and lifestyle hubs – such as Wellington Square and the South Bank.

Now ‘home’ to the likes of Channel4 and SkyBet, it’s testament to the localisation and control which fosters start-ups and established businesses alike – as well as enabling the universities to flourish. Bring these together and you have a fantastic think tank / incubator environment.

What needs to be done to help the North recover from the Covid-19 outbreak?

Working within the construction and rail industry, I’m already aware of some of the upgrade work happening behind-the-scenes, which will really help. As a collective, though, we need to turbo-charge the infrastructure within the entire country – and focus on net-zero too.

It certainly feels as though all parts of the jigsaw are coming together to build the capabilities needed for many parts of the North to easily connect with each other – something which should hopefully stop the country feeling as disconnected as it was prior to the pandemic.

Although there are certainly green shoots, the immediate focus should be on helping businesses who couldn’t operate due to COVID restrictions to come out the other side. That will come from two things; better use of technology – as we’ve seen during the pandemic – and the ability to move around our country more freely and efficiently.

What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?

We have the advantage of relatively new or enhanced cities, but the concept of smart cities is not something we’re advanced in. Leeds is already working on an initiative to digitise the centre in everything from traffic flow to WiFi and networks – utilising tech to ensure better commute times, transport streams, and information about the city.

The locations which steal a march on that and seek to manage and operate their centres in such a way – particularly considering the movement of people – will come out stronger and have a competitive advantage when extending.

Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?

I’m 50/50 on this. We are genuinely embracing the opportunities and talents in our regions, but there’s still work to be done to when it comes to sharing ideas and expertise. However, there are ‘green shoots’ appearing.

When we consider Leeds being chosen as home of new national ‘infrastructure bank’, Darlington’s confirmation as the location for a new government campus in the North-East and – focusing solely on our own space – the Rail Innovation Eco-System study commissioned by University of Huddersfield and the University of Leeds, there are clearly signs we’re heading in a positive direction.

If we harness this collaborate power, and adapt what we do, how we challenge the norm, and explore the possibilities on our ‘doorstep’ – we’ll be even more powerful.

How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?

Currently, the construction industry is governed out of London but delivered nationally. Yet, if we can escalate everything we’ve discussed – across talent, collaboration, and connections – that barrier may be removed.

For example, those firms who are geographically closer to clients in the South have previously been more likely to win the work – simply as it’s easier to have a supplier which is around the corner from your office and can nip in at a moment’s notice.

However, while we might all feel a little ‘Zoomed out’, the pandemic has taught us the power of video calls and cemented the fact that suppliers in Leeds and Manchester are equally as capable in delivering on a brief, as a company in London.

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