The Northern Powerhouse Business Summit

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Throughout the last few months, the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit (4th – 6th July) has been heavily marketed as forming the centrepoint for businesses during the Great Exhibition of the North,

By the time we arrived on Day 2, entitled ‘Great Opportunities’, the focus was on finance and design with a keynote speech by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England ably supported by CEOs from Challenger banks Atom (based in Durham) and M&S Bank (Cheshire). The afternoon session was dominated by a significant announcement by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Energy,  together with a presentation by Sarah Weir, CEO of the Design Council discussing the Council’s Design Economy Report 2018.

Mark Carney was particularly impressive despite bamboozling everyone with the most complex graphs and figures imaginable.  He even coped adroitly with a curveball question from Charlie Hoult about the economic impact of England winning the World Cup! Inevitably, Brexit entered the discussion but in spite of this, Carney’s message remained a largely positive one geared towards encouraging his audience that the seismic changes (and challenges) ahead of us could be tempered by greater opportunities for innovative SMEs like many of those in the North East.

Sadly, the afternoon session revealed just how many people had turned out to hear Mark Carney as the audience reduced by at least half, much to the disappointment of Greg Clarke MP, given the significance the announcement of a £420 million construction sector deal aimed at digital construction and off-site manufacturing. Sarah Weir, the CEO of the Design Council followed with a discussion of the Design Economy Report 2018. The report shows that numbers employed in the UK in design have grown since 2016 to 1.69 million and that the sector now contributes 7% of GVA (almost 75% of the value of UK financial services and insurance). Weir is concerned that in spite of the continuing importance of design to UK growth it invariably ‘passes under the radar’;  undervalued at best or largely ignored.

Unfortunately, the sector is one which remains resolutely lacking when it comes to diversity –  both demographically and regionally. It will come as no surprise that 78% of those employed are male (despite 63% of creative arts and design students being female) and London is home to 30% of all design firms with smaller clusters in major cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle.  Both Sarah Weir and the panel addressed the lack of diversity –  a key issue for many industries, not least architecture – but not necessarily in any meaningful way. Instead, their major focus was on how design can add value to all businesses and acquire a significant role in the fourth industrial revolution and shape the global future of the UK. Weir made the key point that there are lots of untapped opportunities for business to ‘grow’ design, especially in this region.

Apart from the intense heat in the conference room- ironically, the event was being held in The Boiler Shop  – the most remarkable aspect of the day was that such an event was actually being held in North East.  For many, the Northern Powerhouse promised so much but has failed to deliver anything thus far. However, we left the event feeling full of hope that, in spite of Brexit and a projected 3% – 16% potential decrease in economic growth in the North East, perhaps there is now some genuine momentum building in the tech/digital sector capable of  bringing about significant improvements to the region and its economy.

Who knows……? Mark Carney may well prove to be right: many of the technologically able and agile SMEs (and their owners) here in the North East may well go on to contribute to Industry 4.0 in the same way as Stephenson, Armstrong, and Swan did in the first Industrial Revolution.

We say……’bring it on’.

If you are interested in what Mark Carney had to say, click here to see his speech in full.

Niven & BIM Stategy