Hazel Jones, Manchester Market Principle, Made Tech
Devolution and regional investment are subjects that have come centre stage in 2021 and will be a topic of keen interest going forward, in the North West and beyond.
In March, the government announced a series of policies in its Spring Budget in order to address regional inequality and the centralisation of services. These included the ‘Levelling Up Fund’, which will see £4.6bn invested in infrastructure, regenerating town centres, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets, as well as the Towns Funds, where £1bn will be divided between 45 regions to help them ‘level up’ and aid their recovery from the pandemic.
Another part of the government’s strategy appears to be establishing more public bodies away from London. We have seen this with the announcement of new departments like the National Infrastructure Bank being established in Leeds, while the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, an established public body, is being relocated to Wolverhampton.
With the government looking to diversify the locations of public sector organisations, combined with increased investment, this could provide a huge opportunity to the North West.
Attracting public sector organisations to the region will bring a wide range of benefits. These bodies require large amounts of staff in order to function and implement policies and, while some staff will relocate, they will bring with them a diverse range of job opportunities for people in the region.
At the same time, the opportunity to secure public sector contracts will encourage private businesses to follow these bodies to new locations, again bringing with them employment opportunities and finances into the region. Made Tech is a good example of this. We have offices across the country, including in Manchester, so we can work with public sector organisations around the UK. This means we are able to provide a range of jobs to the North West and also invest in the local economy.
With the benefits laid out, the question for the North West is what needs to be done to encourage more public sector organisations to come to the region? Firstly, having the right infrastructure, especially digital infrastructure, is key. In many ways public sector bodies are just like private business and, as such, they need access to high-level services such as ultra fast broadband and widely available network service. Councils in the region need to be looking at where their digital capabilities are weak and investing in solutions that will bring them up to scratch, which will then encourage public bodies, as well as other businesses, to consider their town or city as a potential hub.
Third party expertise can be a valuable tool in this process. Partners with technological expertise can help local councils and authorities through providing services such as digital discoveries, identifying where weaknesses lie and providing the right solutions to bring them up to standard.
However, it is not just down to local authorities to attract these organisations, businesses in the region need to get involved as well. While in time they will attract firms to a region, public bodies need to be confident they are coming to an area where there are already companies who can support them when they need services. This means that businesses need to ensure they can offer support and have the highly trained staff to do so. Public/private collaboration can again help in this through working to develop and provide the right training to people in the North West so they gain the necessary skills to be able to meet the needs of public sector organisations.
Addressing regional inequalities has been needed for some time and it is good to see the Government trying to address this with investment and the devolution of services. If the North West wants to make the most of this opportunity, local councils and businesses need to work together to ensure the infrastructure and skills are in place to provide a suitable home to these public bodies, creating a bright future for the region in the process.