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CBI: Business North launches

Business North, a new group comprising senior industry leaders from across northern England, held its inaugural meeting yesterday where creating economic growth across northern England was at the top of the agenda.

The group aims to provide ideas, challenge and support for the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda. One of its first tasks will be to respond to the newly created Transport for the North proposals.

The establishment of the CBI-backed Business North group reflects industry leaders’ desire to play a more active part in helping the Northern Powerhouse progress.

Generating greater prosperity across the North will create a more meaningful contribution to UK GDP and international competitiveness, particularly given the UK has among the widest regional disparities in Europe.

Speakers at the group’s first meeting included CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn; Chris Hearld, KPMG regional chairman; Ed Cox; IPPR North Director, David Brown; Transport for the North chief executive and Vivian Hunt, McKinsey managing partner, UK & Ireland.

In her opening remarks at the Business North meeting, which took place at KPMG’s Leeds offices, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said:

“Whether it’s the Nissan plant in Sunderland producing more cars than the whole of Italy, a super-port in Liverpool attracting more than £1bn of investment or Manchester launching the first direct flights to China outside London – the North is home to many exciting developments.

“With the Government’s devolution agenda opening up many new possibilities, business has both the enthusiasm and the capability to engage with government at all levels to ensure that the voice of business is heard and acted on.

“That’s why I am delighted to be here at the launch of Business North. Its aim is to provide a focal point for business leaders who are committed to growth and rising productivity across the North, enabling closer involvement in actions and policies that will lead not just to regional but also national prosperity.

“Tackling weak transport links and ensuring young people have access to the education and training they need to succeed are just two of the essential conditions to unlock economic growth far beyond London.

“Harnessing the wisdom of business leaders will give Government the single point of contact it requires to understand the needs of firms of all sectors and sizes, and will give local civic leaders easy access to the views of industry on their doorstep.

“The aim is to identify the issues that make the biggest difference to growth and productivity and remain focussed on addressing them.”

Chris Hearld, KPMG northern Chairman, said: “For a number of months, in our conversations with those running businesses across the north, there has been consensus that the Northern Powerhouse is a business issue. The formation of Business North now demonstrates the appetite of corporate leaders to speak with one voice at the heart of the debate about maximising the north’s economic potential.

“It’s pleasing to be part of a business community taking the initiative to collaborate across the patch, engaging with the government and beyond to secure the prize of a business-led resurgence of economic growth, to the benefit of the wider UK economy.”

Ed Cox, IPPR North Director, said: “Our research has shown an unprecedented appetite amongst Northern businesses for the Northern Powerhouse agenda but also a frustration that to date the opportunities to get involved have been limited. Business investment in the North will be critical to its long-term success and at present the rate of Northern business investment in R&D is twice that of government.

“Businesses also understand that many aspects of economic growth depend upon more collaborative action between the North’s big cities. For all these reasons, Northern businesses need a strong voice on the national and international stage – Business North is a vital development in facilitating collaboration and making sure that Northern prosperity is national prosperity.”

David Brown, Transport for the North chief executive, said: “Central to the Northern Powerhouse vision is transforming the north’s transport connectivity to create a unified, single economy.

“To achieve this, it is essential that the north’s transport network serves the needs of northern enterprise, connecting businesses, granting growing organisations access to a wide talent pool and allowing for the efficient movement of freight to make our region competitive on a global platform.

“Strong, fruitful engagement with the private sector is essential for Transport for the North in order for us to deliver on our ambitious vision. I’m delighted to be involved in the first meeting of Business North, a collaboration which allows business leaders to join together in making the case to Government for sustained investment in transport infrastructure.”

Vivian Hunt, McKinsey UK & Ireland managing partner, said: "The regional economic disparities in the UK are widely known. Yet, the North is home to tremendous assets: world class universities and research; outstanding businesses and entrepreneurs; strong, diverse and complementary sectors; and ambitious civic leadership.

“The Business North initiative is a great opportunity to capitalise on these strengths and focus on the critical role of the private sector. McKinsey Global Institute research indicates that up to 90% of future productivity growth will come from private sector activity. Our research also emphasises the central role that cities will play as engines of economic growth.”

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