Connecting the Northern Powerhouse with local communities

Back Connecting the Northern Powerhouse with local communities

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council spoke to PSE about the Northern Powerhouse and why it needs approaching with communities at its core.

 I think the Northern Powerhouse has got the potential to be important, but in practice it hasn’t delivered a lot and that needs to change if it’s going to be a thing that makes a difference for people on the ground.

I think it has helped create a conversation around rebalancing the economy, the name has given some gravitas to rebalancing spend within the country for us all to prosper, now it needs to translate into positive actions.

I always try and take things down to a community level, one community’s challenges are different to another’s, so for the Northern Powerhouse to really work, it needs to understand that communities need slightly different investment.

For us, the top three priorities are Digital connectivity, Transport in communities and Skills. Transport is important, but while most of the Northern Powerhouse conversation is about how to get from Manchester to Leeds for example, people on the ground are concerned about getting from home to work.

If you live in a certain part of the city, you can’t get a bus to the first shift at Nissan in the morning, so public transport doesn’t necessarily work for people getting to work on time. This is why investment into public transport within communities, helping people go from home to work to education, is vital for us.

Devolution could be really important for us because we know all our communities, so at the moment, public funds are spent by various different bodies, but we are all dealing with the same residents and families. There’s a chance for real cohesive means of spending money that has a positive impact on communities.

For example, a lot of skills funding comes through DWP and the contracts are standard across the country so they don’t actually reflect the individual business requirements and the community needs. Devolution could give a transferring of spending powers to local governments giving us chance to spend the money more intelligently, making it a more joined up service.

Different bodies have different requirements, so funding that comes through education is hard to join up with funding that comes through DWP and it can get quite complicated, I think they should be joined up at the grass roots level, I think getting rid of the silo mentality could be really important for our communities.

Northern Powerhouse in principle is a great idea, we’ve got the conversation which is good but we now need to see real practical things moving forward such as devolution and investment in the right things for the individual communities.

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