Hull and Humber needs to bring ideas to the table

This week the Cities Commission followed the Chancellor and Core Cities in backing a Supercity powerhouse of the North. The working title “ManSheffLeedsPool” may well grab the headlines but it is a bit late. In 2005, architect Will Alsop coined the term Supercity with a far more dynamic concept based on a City that linked the urban and rural space from the Mersey to the Humber. Obsessed with turf wars, Hull and Humber failed to build on that concept and we risk losing out again – if we don’t generate the ideas that buy the seat at the North’s top table.

When Rovers wanted to be part of Super League they had to become a Centre of Excellence for the door to be opened. Now, Hull City Tigers are developing their youth set-up to be part of the elite. We need to generate ideas far beyond the fact that we are in a great location for offshore wind. We need to lead with ideas for the North that can create wealth and jobs locally and be innovative enough to add value elsewhere. Energy Region has to be more than words. Ask 14 year olds if we are that place – not those in the corridors of power!

Recently, I visited the 100 acre Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in South Yorkshire and marvelled at the vision and what has been accomplished with enlightened public investment and committed private sector firms such as Boeing, Rolls Royce and many more. More significantly, it is where this all started that is more impressive and challenges those doubters that add nothing to hard won momentum on the Humber.

From the Peasants Revolt down to the more recent Occupy protests, there are few more significant events in our social heritage than the 1984 Battle of Orgreave; where the flying pickets of the NUM clashed with police at a British Steel coking plant in South Yorkshire at the height of the miner’s strike. There is a case to see this from another perspective; as part of the sudden collapse of manufacturing in the UK during the Thatcher years that saw a major shift to the service sector and the consequent widening of the North South divide – all the more remarkable to see Orgreave now.

Today, the grandchildren of miners are building their careers with apprenticeships in workshops that take them from how to use a file on metal in a vice to computerised design and the latest in additive manufacturing. Elsewhere on the site, composite metals are being tested for use in aviation and now in medical appliances. This goes beyond traditional university teaching and research. The AMRC is led by Sheffield University and parallels the Norwegian model of linking leading Universities with local business to generate enterprise, innovation, cross training and jobs. These Institutes work closely with industry to deliver the ideas that generate careers not jobs; and wealth from investment, not handouts.

Recently, Lord Heseltine emphasised: “We need to restore to the powerhouses of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and the neighbouring communities the initiative that made them.” In other words give them the means to the ends which all across the North crave and UK plc badly needs to re-balance the services of the south with world class manufacturing, energy and logistics in the North. Everything is geared to wealth creation and yet the market would not have come to a place synonymous with bitter labour relations without the strong commitment from Government over the long term.

On the Humber, we need to be part of this debate on the North – and that means more than discussions in the corridors of power. We need a vision beyond local needs that everyone can identify with. In London, Sir Paul Nurse is spear heading the Francis Crick Institute as a catalyst for world class biomedical research. Near London, the Tunneling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) is a purpose built facility providing training in the key skills needed for tunnelling excavation and underground construction projects such as Cross Rail. Over in Rotterdam, the STC Institute offers training in the ports sector. Initially, the focus was local but soon surplus was being generated from offering the state-of-the-art facilities to ports worldwide and now, STC Rotterdam supports a global training network. TUCA and STC link to universities and vocational providers. All of these centres use the latest digital technologies across all industry sectors and shout loud about their area’s lead on ideas – this attracts inward investment.

Things are happening across the North. Doncaster has won the bid with Birmingham to be the HS2 Rail Academy. CREATE will not just deliver training for locals it seeks to become a global leader in an industry that will be worth an estimated £120 billion per year by 2017 – this means the potential for thousands of jobs for the North and even more as improved connectivity will attract further investment in other sectors. At Grimsby Institute, plans for a Logistics Academy to support the offshore renewables industry in UK PLCs Energy Region are taking shape. With the oil price falling, the industry will have to cut costs and we can compete with Aberdeen and Stavanger for training across the North.

Over the next few years, over £1 billion could be spent on expanding Reckitt Benckiser; building Green Port Hull and Able UK on the South Bank and more. Do we have the project management skills and the crafts locally to deliver and, where we lack these skills are we ready to plug the gap? As things stand, the skills effort is fragmented and we need our own Centre of Excellence to offer traing and be the voice of an industry. What about one for Construction and Energy?

Places like Doncaster, Grimsby and Hull need these beacons to build skills capacity through a concerted long term effort to grow awareness of emerging business sectors in areas blighted by generational unemployment; build competencies to equip local youth and the long term unemployed for the jobs on offer and then, improve productivity on the job that will ensure a sustainable future for those businesses committing vital long term investment to these areas. Jobs in these global industries creates the wealth and this ripples across the wider economy.

Last November, the Northern Gateways Initiative was launched with the backing of Lords Prescott and Heseltine. The initial focus was on developing the Humber Mersey trade corridor; going beyond the East West HS3 rail connectivity in calling for all sectors to be involved and now, the NGI is pushing for North 2050 – a comprehensive plan for the North to parallel plans taking shape on Scotland and Boris Johnson’s push on London 2050. Recently, Chancellor George Osborne recognised the NGI and applauded this emphasis on Centres of Excellence. NGI has local backing but it needs to sound more like the Kop than polite applause.


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