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27th February 2019

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean for us?

Northerners, born and bred, by nature are invested and excited for any opportunities that arise to raise the profile of our regions.

Without a doubt, any sentence or heading with ‘Northern’ and ‘Power’ certainly should catch your attention. Many of us, however, are not sure what a Northern Powerhouse means in our day to day lives. Whilst we know there are positive opportunities for us, we want to see less headlines and more of what it means for those who live here.

Across the north we already have a sense of community and regional identity which is to be envied. We are notoriously territorial and feel passionate about our great cities and the people who work in them. But is that who the Northern Powerhouse will benefit? Is it about including all who live and work in the North and call it home? Or will it risk excluding a large part of our community?

We are already seeing that the north west is a great place for people who are upwardly mobile. There are great places to live and jobs to be had, and construction offers a golden opportunity. As of last week, there are apparently 92 tower cranes in the Manchester area alone, a clear indicator that something big is developing in our sector! But would those cranes have gone up without the attention of the Powerhouse? Or is it a direct result of the increase investment as promised?

The strategy published in the 2016 Autumn statement laid out that the government would work with local stakeholders to address key barriers to productivity in the region. For construction, that barrier is reasonable margins, training and development of workers and apprenticeships, and caring for people. What we want to know is; how will the government help us to tackle them?

In 2018, new-build housing accounted for more than 30% of construction work in the northwest, compared with 14% in 2013. But are locals being priced out of those new homes we are building?

The construction sector in the north west needs to recruit more workers than any other region. But what are we doing to attract them and support their development?

We can certainly entice people to the area knowing that the average salary of a male construction employee (I use ‘male’ to avoid any gender disparities in pay) in the north west is around 11% more a year than an average male across all industries. But are we providing them with job stability?

Making a job attractive is not just about the pay. With the loss of EU workers from London, we are at risk of losing quality workers to the bright lights of the capital. If we want to remain competitive then we have to offer more than just money to be appealing. We need to show that those who chose a career in construction are cared for, invested in, and can be at the forefront of industry.

There are shining examples of how great this industry can be across the north that we need to emulate and promote.

Christopher Seddon MBE, former Director of Bolton company Seddon Group Ltd, was passionate about ensuring apprentices in the area, and the industry, were encouraged and invested in. He summarised it best when saying “We train for the industry, not just ourselves”. As a result of his legacy, for which he received his MBE in 2014, the organisation has grown from a small family business to a nation company with over 700 people, with apprenticeships at the heart of it. But are we doing enough to keep that momentum and move with the times to ensure others keep apprenticeships as a priority?

The north west has a rich history in manufacturing and we are already seeing signs of how that continues to grow by embracing new technology and transforming. Such as the Laing O’Rourke Explore Industrial Park near Worksop, which is spearheading change in the construction sector.

We need to lead by example. And so does the government. As an industry, not just in the north, we aspire to be known for fair payment, quality, and strong client relationships. But to move away from the cost cutting and lowest price expectations, we need clients that will prioritise pride and the highest standards alongside us. The government can be that leading example, focusing on quality over cost and calling for reasonable margins, and why not use the Northern Powerhouse to get that mindset in motion?

The CIOB has published a new report on the Value of Construction in the North West available here.

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