Northern Powerhouse: what more can be done?

A lot has been made of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse project, an initiative to attract investment to the north of the UK and address the north/south divide. By improving transport infrastructure and encouraging investment, the government aims to make it easier for people to start up businesses, and hopes this will create new centres of industry and technology.

However a recent survey commissioned by the BBC has revealed that 44% of people in the north had never even heard of the policy, and a further 20% had heard of it but don’t know anything about it.

At Virgin StartUp we’re proud of the amount of businesses we’ve helped start up in the north – from the delicious confections of Zara Cakes, to the edgy cyclewear of Paria, and many more in between – so we know first hand the creative and business potential that’s in the north of the UK, and also the huge impact that thriving startups can have on regions and community. But what do those working directly with startups in the north think of this study?

“I am very surprised by the results of the survey,” says Paul Davidson, CEO of enterprise agency Bolton Business Ventures. “The UK launch of Global Entrepreneurship Week took place in Manchester on Monday 16 November and was attended by over 100 entrepreneurs, as well as the Minister of Small Business, Industry and Enterprise.

“This was the first time in ten years that the UK national launch had been held outside London, and it proved to be a great success, with many speakers making reference to the positive benefits of the Northern Powerhouse. Certainly all the entrepreneurs present were aware of this great initiative, and were inspired by the opportunities it presents, to start and grow a successful business.

The enterprise revolution is everywhere and initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse can only drive forward our ambition and determination to build a strong and successful economy.”

Meanwhile Elizabeth Shaw, a Virgin StartUp business advisor based in Manchester, says "Lack of awareness of the Northern Powerhouse is due to people not being able to see the benefits to it and how it will change their life. It has been poorly communicated. A lot of people in the North that have heard of the Northern Powerhouse feel that it will not happen as it hasn't been fully-funded. Also you are in a Labour-dominated area, and it is a Conservative-funded idea.

"We are seeing so many of the local towns lose their high streets that I think this gives the wrong impression - an impression that business isn't booming in the North. I'm seeing a lot of people wanting to start up businesses in the North, but they struggle to find the support or don't seek the support to make it happen. People are fearful due to the economic climate to start a business, or just presume they will not get any funding to help them. This is a shame, as there is help out there. I have seen so many businesses start up in the city centre, especially in the Northern Quarter, where businesses that offer something different are able to flourish. We are starting to see seeds of growth in the local towns as well."

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that 82% of people in North think decisions should be made by people in that region, rather than in London and Westminster – so the people in the regions have more say about where the money goes, and which initiatives need it most.

What do you think can be done to help more business start up in the north? Tweet your ideas to @VirginStartup and have your say.

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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