How to build a new northern infrastructure

13 September 2019

Barclays – which counts one in four north of England businesses as clients – has partnered with one of the world’s top business schools to produce a series of reports on how to boost the northern economy.

A series of Barclays-backed reports launched today identifies a series of measures aimed at supercharging the Northern Powerhouse.

Amongst a package of measures recommended by the Alliance Manchester Business School, the three reports advocate for a renewed focus on transformative infrastructure projects and the creation of a powerful one-stop body for coordinating, developing and driving them forward.

“For the North to become greater than the sum of its parts in terms of productivity and growth,” conclude the reports, “it must develop a framework of connectivity that enables clusters of knowledge and industry.

“Whilst challenges to accessing finance and relevant skills require additional political support, there are aspects of the existing planning and delivery mechanisms that could be improved by evolving methodologies and broader logistical thinking.”

Small changes such as “encouraging infrastructure owners to work more collaboratively with their suppliers” could have a “huge impact in unlocking the region’s ability to deliver world class infrastructure”, say the reports’ authors.

Tony Walsh

Tony Walsh, Head of North and Mid Corporate for Barclays Corporate Banking

The value of connectivity

Identifying some of the factors that have held back the north of England, the report references a skills gap in the region and says the way infrastructure investment decisions are made don’t fully consider the unique set of circumstances of the northern economy.

The reports also single out poor connectivity: “If the North is to achieve the required level of connectivity to achieve the capabilities of a high growth cluster such as London or Silicon Valley, the region needs to undergo a sustained period of development of its economic infrastructure.”

Current support for the north’s infrastructure is a continuation of Barclays’ heritage in the region, which includes involvement in some of the most crucial developments of the industrial revolution, from the Manchester Ship Canal to the Stockton to Darlington Railway.

While those large infrastructure projects brought commercial growth and prosperity in their wake, the north is now seen as lagging behind other regions in attracting money for investment in new, grand projects – something the reports seek to address.

Tony Walsh, Head of North and Mid Corporate for Barclays Corporate Bank, says the series is “one of our flagship thought partnerships in support of the Northern Powerhouse programme. We are determined to convene the north of England’s most experienced and influential businesses, policymakers and academics, working with them to generate new and innovative solutions for improving prosperity for this dynamic and potential-rich part of the UK. We are … pleased to be part of shaping the policy debate about the north of England’s exciting future.”