In September, I had the pleasure of co-hosting the first offsite of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), held in Darlington in the Northeast of England, the second day of the two, coinciding with the now infamous so-called mini budget of the ever so brief Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng. The Partnership was set up by George Osborne when he left government in 2016 as an attempt to ensure that the Northern Powerhouse concept would continue after his bold attempts to bring it into the centre of UK policymaking during his time of office. Since he left, our country is about to embark on its 4th new Prime Minister, because of the turbulence that has engulfed the UK since the decision to leave the EU was voted for in June 2016. As I joked to a journalist that interviewed me that day about the new apparent policy thrust of the UK, I was delighted to be in the centre of a group that appeared to be one of the few that had a clear narrative and plan as to how it was approaching the future, unlike Whitehall and Westminster.
It is now over eight years since Osborne adopted the concept, something that originated from an Independent Review I chaired about trying to change the relative patterns of long-term UK economic growth while at the same time boosting the overall economic performance. I remain deeply immersed in this endeavour, and now Northern Gritstone, is another crucial leg of what, is essentially becoming a private sector-led journey.
As we summarised our offsite, a key conclusion was that we have a clear plan for delivering improved productivity in many parts of the North of England, and with it, ideas for attracting far more investment from home and overseas. Coincidentally, the week after the NPP offsite, the first AGM of Northern Gritstone took place, where we had the pleasure of some of our earliest investments and possible future ones, present. It was all rather uplifting and added to my own mood about the positive potential of the Northern Powerhouse journey.
Just after the NPP offsite, the NPP Research team published some findings about foreign direct investment (FDI) into the UK in the past decade. And to my surprise and – northern – pleasure, it shows that despite a worrying and not surprising decline in overall FDI flows to the UK, there had been a notable rise to the North of England, both relatively and indeed, despite the national picture, absolutely. This could be coincidental, but I suspect not and reflects the fact that early movers in spotting trends realise that there is an exciting shift in its infancy in the UK.
At the centre of the Northern Powerhouse and Northern Gritstone stories are two related facts. Of the 16 UK Universities that are, year after year, recognised as being in the world’s best 100 in terms of research quality, half of these are usually ones from the North of England. This is a truly unique feature of the contemporary Britain – sadly one of the few – and Northern Gritstone has been established to invest in the early stages of some of their cutting-edge research, especially from our anchor Universities: Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. Our investment team has an extensive pipeline of exciting ideas that might be worth serious consideration for investment.
Many of these research ideas relate to what the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (NPIER) highlighted in 2015 as the four “primes” of the North of England: Alternative energy, Advanced manufacturing, Digital technologies, and Life sciences. Helping these industries achieve their world-class leading potential is what Northern Gritstone is all about, being at the centre of contributing to a step change in productivity and prosperity. We are excited about welcoming others that want to support us along this journey.
By Jim O’Neill, Non-Executive Chairman at Northern Gritstone