Is the Northern Powerhouse Key to Tech Growth in the Region?


If you look at the latest headlines about the Northern Powerhouse, you’d be forgiven for thinking it only relates to the potentially doomed east-west Northern rail link. Recent reports claim that the government is still committed to plans for a new rail line between Manchester and Leeds, despite rumours the scheme could be scrapped.

In reality, the rail project is just one piece, albeit a huge one, of the Northern Powerhouse initiative that aims to create a connected and competitive northern economy. 

What is it?

To quote the official website: “The Northern Powerhouse is the government’s vision for a super-connected, globally-competitive northern economy with a flourishing private sector, a highly-skilled population, and world-renowned civic and business leadership.” 

Starting as a proposal in the early 2010s to boost economic growth in the north, the Northern Powerhouse aimed to reposition the British economy away from London and the South East while improving northern transport links and increasing investment in science and innovation.

Published as part of the 2016 Autumn Statement, the Northern Powerhouse strategy explained that the government would work with local stakeholders to address barriers to productivity in the region. It outlined:

  • Further investments in transport infrastructure
  • Work to raise education and skill levels in the north
  • Positioning the north as an excellent place to start and grow a business 
  • How the Northern Powerhouse would be globally recognised as an opportunity for trade and investment. 

In February 2017, the £500m Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) was launched by the government-owned British Business Bank to assist the region’s businesses with their growth plans. Funding from NPIF supports new and growing SMEs, creates jobs and encourages and attracts private sector investment by providing finance and support for small and medium businesses. 

Has it been successful?

In 2021, the north is home to some of the fastest-growing tech clusters in the UK, which Northern Powerhouse initiatives may have both directly and inadvertently helped create over the last five years.

In March, it was reported that more than £237m had been invested by the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund across over 1,000 deals since it was founded. A total of 1,068 deals have been completed across the north over that time, with recent deals including Liverpool-based international chemical technology business, Chirochem and Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), a Sheffield-based 3D print equipment company.

Of course, all tech growth in the north can’t realistically be attributed to the government policy, especially as the region had strong foundations to begin with. However, given Northern Powerhouse initiatives are not yet a decade in the making, it’s worth checking back in a few years. Maybe they’ll have sorted the rail situation out at that point too. 

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