Ever since the term ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was coined the economic, industrial and corporate status of northern England has become something of a focal point (especially for us northerners!).
The need for a renewed emphasis on northern prosperity was in no small part fired by the growing disconnect between London and the south east generally. As the capital surged ahead of the rest of the country in terms of investment and fortune, worries began to mount that northern England would become a forgotten outpost. They were worries with a plausible grounding.
With the mills and mines closed, northern towns such as Oldham, which once processed more cotton per year than the United States, became desolate. Even the great cities of Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle struggled to attract big business and retain the services of their most talented sons and daughters, drawn as they were to the bright lights of London.
However, in recent years, a trend has been developing which is slowly reversing the relative decline of the north and it has little to do with emphatic labels like ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
A migration begins
As one of the planet’s major economic hubs, attracting investment from all four corners of the Earth, London grew to become an obvious place for major organisations to establish HQs and flagship offices. Acquiring a London postcode though, was to become burdensome.
With demand for properties, both commercial and residential, outstripping supply, rents and purchase prices soared. To ensure workers could afford to live within commutable distances, wages increased accordingly to the point where “London-weighting” is no longer a practice we question. It was getting to the point for many, that the profit-margins gained from trading within the boundaries of the M25 were being eroded by the cost of being there in the first place.
Slowly at first, the search for a solution had eyes wandering north. Initially it was smaller organisations that headed for the shadows of the Pennines, those too small to absorb the extortionate costs of capital-living but solvent enough to withstand a relocation. And in their wake, bigger outfits began to move.
The development of the MediaCityUK complex on the banks of the Manchester ship canal woke many to the fact that London was losing its grip on the country’s heavyweights. To much trump and fanfare, the BBC closed its capital office and ensconced themselves in the Salford campus. There they were joined there by the likes of ITV and Ericsson.
MediaCityUK was far from a standalone honeypot. Across the north, household names settled. Amongst them were Amazon, Burberry, AutoTrader, Bet365, Sainsbury’s, TalkTalk and TheLadBible. This migration north of big business could no longer be written off as a quirky fad, this was something else, something more profound and it soon merited a designation of its own: North-Shoring.
The north will rise again
As with any phenomenon on the scale of this ongoing North-Shoring, detractors can be found. Critics of this corporate pilgrimage north claim that the bedding in of blue-chips across the region will out-muscle smaller companies native to this end of the country. However, there is little in the way of data to back this claim up.
The flight of big business north brings positives that overwhelm the negatives. Jobs are an obvious boon, with workers needed to build and maintain offices and occupy desks and computers. Businesses of such scale also require multiple suppliers. This creates opportunities for growth for existing companies and space for others to start. As more people have found employment, more money circulates within the local economy and regeneration schemes across housing, infrastructure, and services are all well underway.
There has been a clear ripple-effect following the arrival of some of the largest and most pioneering organisations. Innovation breeds innovation and Manchester in particular, buoyed by the success of newly relocated tech firms, has responded with an outbreak of new companies and is now no longer seen as the epicentre of the “industrial north”, but as one of Europe’s most formidable tech capitals.
How far North-Shoring has to go remains to be seen, but even if it were to stop tomorrow, it’s impact on the Northern Powerhouse vision has been colossal. It doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon though and if it continues at its current pace, the north looks set to rise again.