On Wednesday 25 January 2023, Manchester Central hosted The Convention of The North 2023, an annual gathering of civic, political and business leaders. The convention provides an opportunity to discuss levelling up and to find real solutions to the challenges it provides, uniting all regions of the North to unlock its potential.
Co-chaired by Sir Roger Marsh OBE and Chair of NP11 and Bev Craig, Member of Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP) and Leader of Manchester City Council, the Convention of the North aims to encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas to utilise collective strengths and create a greener, fairer and more prosperous future for the North.
The talking points of the day highlighted the North’s strengths and how these assets can be used to further economic growth.
These strengths include advanced manufacturing, digital, clean energy and net zero, trade, transport, people and strength of place.
Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, said “Today isn’t about Manchester, it’s about the whole of the North coming together with a collective vision to improve lives, grow the economy and create prosperity. The time for talking has passed. Many of our communities can’t wait. Our economy can’t wait. The challenge for all of us is not just talking about a set of outputs but some outcomes that create real change for the North.”
Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of NP11, said, “We have a vision, we have a plan and we have an outcome calibrated. As we move forward we can’t be restricted by political cycles and short-term fixes. Levelling up and devolution in my mind go hand in hand when it comes to economic growth. Fundamentally what we want is to fix social inequalities and we need to be top of that agenda.”
After a short video from Carson Schneider about how Germany successfully levelled up by creating a more equal society, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham chaired the morning’s session all about the North’s assets and opportunities.
Andy Burnham was joined by Edna Rob Chair of People’s Powerhouse, Nazir Afzal Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Ben Lucas Managing Director of Metro Dynamics, Zoe Billingham Director of IPPR North, Helen Simpson Chair of York and North Yorkshire LEP, Will Garten Director General for Levelling Up, Cllr Philippa Williamson Leader of Lancashire County Council and Vilma Appadoo Head of Experience at Culture Shift.
Andy Burnham Mayor of Greater Manchester said, “Can we write a new story for the North of England in the 21st century? We’re encouraged by the progress so far, but we need to go further down this devolution road. The North is on this journey, we’re not going back to how things were. We’re presenting ideas with a single voice. We’re asking for a change in a polite but forceful way.”
The panel discussed the necessity to involve communities in decision-making and involve real people in conversations to build success. Conversations once again came back to skills, investment propositions, transport, natural assets and the need to work together and collaborate across regions.
North Yorkshire and Lancashire representatives highlighted the need to test how devolved powers can work for more rural communities outside of the cities.
It was then time for workshop sessions. These sessions covered various areas of the North’s social and economic agenda including transport, clean energy, skills and education, digital, advanced manufacturing and sustainable placemaking.
Then it was time for a keynote address from Rt Hon Michael Gove Secretary of State for Levelling Up discussing how the Government is supporting the levelling up agenda.
Rt Hon Michael Gove said “London is a priceless asset for all of us but we all know we cannot prosper fully as a state if we rely so much on one region. Success depends on strength and depth and that’s what the UK economy has lacked for too long.
“This is a deliberately long-term economic plan. We are reforming the shape and nature of government within England itself, we are taking powers away from London with the North benefitting most.
“So far 20,000 senior posts have been relocated out of London to the North. While relocating central government decision-making is important so is empowering local government. Strong Mayors in our major cities are leading to economic growth. Teesside is proof that putting economic empowerment in the hands of an empowered local leader works.
“As well as deepening devolution we must also broaden it. I’ve been clear that my ambition is to finish the job and give all regions of the North that want one a devolution deal.
Every government department is committed to our mission. We are committed to using all the tools at our disposal to create economic growth.”
The afternoon saw Jessica Koravos of Co-Chairperson of Oak View Group deliver a speech about the upcoming Manchester venue Co-Op live and why the company felt the culture and sense of place within North of England, and Manchester in particular, made it the ideal venue for this type of investment.
Then a panel including Tracy Brabin Mayor of West Yorkshire, Chair of Greater Manchester’s Young People’s Task Force Diane Modahl, Environment Agency’s Area Director for Cumbria and Lancashire Keith Ashcroft and Joanna Murphy, Business Growth Lead at Tees Valley Combined Authority, discussed the main priorities for the North. The conversation revolved around transport, skills and talent, the natural environment and culture.
The panel concluded that with all priorities, the North should work together and collaborate rather than compete. One area pitching against each other for funding isn’t working and it exaggerates inequality between regions.
Then, Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan and Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities gave the second keynote address of the conference. She emphasised the need for regional growth plans and putting power back in the hands of local leaders.
Lisa Nandy MP said, “Ambition is everywhere in the towns, villages and cities that were once the engine of Britain but for too long have been written out of our story.
“Ending a century of centralisation and unleashing the power of all people in all parts of Britain is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s at the heart of whether this country has a future or not. In short, it is the only way to build a country that works.
“In the North, I believe we can create the country we’ve dreamed of for years but have not yet seen. A more diverse, equal and fair country. Hope burns brighter than ever before and there are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
To end the day, a final panel of local leaders took to the stage to discuss how devolved powers affected people in their region and what they would require for success going forwards.
Chair of of Greater Manchester Business Board (LEP) Lou Cordwell OBE joined the conversation on behalf of Greater Manchester and offered a perspective on how devolved powers are affecting businesses and innovation across the city-region.
Lou Cordwell OBE said, “To allow businesses to have a voice and to be able to help create a skills system that works for them, you have to have a local level of control. In Greater Manchester we now understand how that allows us to fine-tune the innovation agenda and how we can create a skills system that will work in 20- or 30 years time, attracting investment and giving businesses the talent they need. We know that the proximity of business working hand in hand with the public sector and academia is essential to our economic growth.”
Overall Convention of the North was a great day at Manchester Central, filled with optimism and ambition to create a more prosperous region in the future. Presenting a unified front, leaders across the North have a clear vision of how to achieve prosperity and a more equal society for people across the region.
To learn more about NP11’s priorities for the North visit their website.
View the video Marketing Manchester created for the convention on behalf on NP11 here: