Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by The Northern Way (RG 39)


  1.1  The Northern Way is an initiative that aspires to capitalise on the North's new-found confidence and energy, and to speed up the rate of change. Our aim is to look at how the North can become more prosperous, more competitive and more dynamic for the benefit of the communities across the North. The UK as a whole will also benefit from a prosperous North by offering a balance to the economic success of the greater south east and London. Our vision is to establish a world-class economy and superb quality of life in the North. Our measure of success is to close the £30 billion productivity gap between the North and the rest of England within 20 years whilst boosting the design and quality of life within our communities, and protecting our natural assets.

  1.2  The Northern Way is being led by the three Northern Regional Development Agencies (RDAs)—Yorkshire Forward, One NorthEast and the Northwest Regional Development Agency—in partnership with key national, regional and sub-regional stakeholders, to add value to economic development already being delivered through the three Regional Economic Strategies. A Steering Group was established to lead the production of the Northern Way Growth Strategy which was published in September 2004. The Growth Strategy identified 10 policy priorities—including bringing more people into work, meeting the skills needs of employers, and creating truly sustainable communities—in which the North needed to raise its game if it was to bridge the productivity gap.

  1.3  The Strategy also reasoned that the eight city regions in the North were key to any attempt to accelerate economic growth, on the basis that commercial activity operates across administrative boundaries, and that transformational change demands that we focus our efforts in places where the return is highest. The eight Northern city regions—centred around Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Central Lancashire, Hull and the Humber Ports, Tees Valley and Tyne & Wear—house 90% of the population and 90% of the economic activity in the North.

  1.4  The purpose of the Northern Way is to add value to, not duplicate, national and regional economic development. We do this by focussing on:

    —  promoting collaboration across regions and across organisations so that the combined weight of our policies and resources are aligned around shared, clear and evidenced priorities;

    —  developing the evidence and analysis that will demonstrate what spatial, policy and investment barriers exist that inhibit economic growth in the North; and

    —  influencing decision-makers to make more effective use of the full range of public expenditure already going into the North, and to accelerate the rate and amount of private sector investment.

  1.5  By taking advantage of the critical mass of assets and opportunities across the three regions, by understanding and promoting the potential of developing collaborative interrelationships between city regions across the North, and by evidencing the case for policy adjustments to support the North we aim to provide a stronger and more competitive offer in the global economy.


  2.1  Given the economic focus of the Northern Way, it is not for us to take a view on the governance issues highlighted by your Inquiry. The Regional Development Agencies will be making a joint submission on these issues. The purpose of this submission is to offer our perspective on those questions raised by the Inquiry that are directly relevant to the Northern Way, namely:

    "The potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions."

    "The impact which new regional and sub-regional arrangements, such as the city regions, might have on peripheral towns and cities."

    "The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities."


    —  The goal of the Northern Way is to accelerate economic growth whilst offering a superb quality of life across the North of England;

    —  It will do this by promoting collaboration, evidence gathering and analysis, and influencing key decision-makers;

    —  The Northern Way supports the concept of city regions as a tool for understanding and accelerating economic growth, recognizing that commercial activity does not neatly operate within regional or sub-regional geography;

    —  The specific economic focus of our city region concept, and the fluidity of city region boundaries, complements rather than challenges regional and local structures;

    —  Rural and other areas can also benefit from greater complementarity with city regions, and can benefit from the evidence and analysis being developed under the 10 Northern Way Investment Priorities;

    —  In a global economy, inter-regional collaboration can give the North an additional competitive advantage.


  4.1  In responding to the question about the potential of city regions it is important to be clear about what is meant by the term. The concept of city regions is not new and there have been many attempts at articulating a definition but no real consensus about what makes a city region or how to translate the concept into implementation and programme delivery.

  4.2  The Northern Way has employed the idea of city regions as an economic tool that can help us achieve our goal of accelerating economic growth in the north of England. Our employment of the concept looks at "real-world" economic geographies that operate outside neatly drawn administrative boundaries. The interface between economic flows—including travel-to-work areas, retail catchment areas, housing and labour markets, etc—provides the spatial analysis that helps decision-makers target delivery programmes in ways which accelerate growth.

  4.3  In this context, the boundaries of the city regions can change depending on what issue is under scrutiny, and the corresponding datasets. Different issues have different parameters and the way we use city region analysis needs to be flexible enough to embrace these variable geographies. For example, an analysis of travel to work data overlaid with retail catchments might have a different boundary and tell you something different about economic opportunity than, say, an overlay of housing markets and labour markets.

  4.4  In order to develop these city region analyses, a collaboration of interested partners have come together in each of the eight city regions in the Northern Way. These collaborators include primarily, but not exclusively, the local authorities that are most significantly affected by the city region economic geographies. Through the analyses around common goals these partners will be able to prepare and implement policies and programmes within their ownership to work more effectively with the geography of the economy. Through the sharing of experience and evidence both within and between city region partners they will also be able to develop a compelling case for making changes to national or regional policies and programmes in support of the economic goal.

  4.5  In the context of the Northern Way approach to city regions, our response to the Inquiry on "the potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions" is that a city region approach does not require the establishment of specific administrative arrangements. Rather it is a concept that administrations can all embrace as the real geography for accelerating and devising the delivery of extra economic productivity. And by seizing this opportunity we can complement national, regional or local interventions that have a number of aims and are not driven primarily by economic considerations.

  4.6  The key is collaboration between the range of stakeholders and decision-makers concerned. Most progress in economic development has been made where the different economic organisations with different geographical boundaries have worked together effectively. To truly realise the potential of city regions requires the collaboration of not just local authorities (though this is essential) but a wide variety of other economic organisations and the private sector.

  4.7  It is for partners at a local level to consider whether there is value in changing administrative arrangements in order to remove barriers to exploiting city region economic geographies. But it can never be the whole, or even the primary, tool for realising the growth potential of the North given the variable geographies and multi-layered collaboration required to succeed.


  5.1  Although the Northern Way Growth Strategy concentrates on the North's city regions, we recognise the complementary economic strengths of the North's rural and other areas. Delivering the Northern Way's 10 investment priorities will bring benefits to these areas as well as to the city regions. There are also economic gains to be had from building stronger complementary relationships between our urban and non-urban areas, not least because of the value of areas that surround urban centres as assets in adding to the quality of life. Equally, neighbouring areas can benefit from the economic and social opportunities provided by a economically robust urban hub. Moreover, it is the job of the Regional Economic Strategies and the Regional Spatial Strategies to set the balance between urban and rural development. The Northern Way aims to complement not challenge these regional functions.

  5.2  In responding to this Inquiry question, it is therefore our view that policy and programmes should be developed at the appropriate spatial level. The city region allows us to be more analytical and evidence-based in understanding those spatial levels for economic development. They can inform investment decisions and the strategic basis for agreeing economic priorities between partners, and can broaden rather than restrict our ability to make the North of England a prosperous and inclusive place to live and work.


  6.1  The Northern Way has been a ground-breaking initiative in developing the benefits of a collaborative approach to addressing regional economic disparities. It has been the catalyst for innovative strategic thinking, collaborative working at an inter-regional and city regional level, and evidencing the distinctive economic assets and offer of the North. The Northern Way is about adding value to regional economic development activity—to help exploit economic scales that sit outside existing administrative boundaries, including the pan-northern and city regional scale—to help bring about the transformational change necessary to close the £30 billion output gap between the north and the rest of the English regions.

  6.2  It has provided the opportunity for the North as a whole to realise the strength of collaboration based on common interests, challenges and opportunities, and using joint assets to "sell" the North in a global economy. The North of England has a distinctiveness that is a combination of the both the sum of the unique qualities of the three individual regions and the value added of bringing together the pan-regional assets as a whole. In many ways this distinctiveness offers advantages to the North, but it does mean that policies and programmes may need to be developed that operate in ways that support a specifically northern situation.

  6.3  It is our view that the Northern Way and its aspirations for the North would not have been possible without the progress of the regional agenda, and the creation of the Regional Development Agencies in particular.


  7.1  We submit this Memorandum to the Committee to help raise awareness of the scope and purpose of the Northern Way, and our approach to the city region agenda. We hope that in its consideration of the future of regional government the Committee will give due weight to the economic advantages of a regional, inter-regional and city regional approach, as well as to political and administrative matters.

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