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Robust discussion at the New Statesman’s Northern Powerhouse Conference 2019
Business growth of Northern cities and companies has been stunted in recent years. This is because funding is allocated by Parliament, who favour the development of Southern cities. John Prescott and Jake Berry, Minister of the Northern Powerhouse, don’t agree on much but they do agree on this. However, whilst Jake Berry stated this was changing thanks to Northern England’s ‘optimism and business confidence’, other speakers had a very different perspective.
At the New Statesman’s Northern Powerhouse Conference there was a strong mood that progress has been limited to say the least. However, there is certainly a lot of potential in the region. Manchester has produced five Unicorns - tech companies valued at $1 billion – according to an article by IT Pro. The North was also well represented in the Sunday Times International Track 200 last month, reflecting well on current growth trends. As a member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Programme we were interested to learn more about the programme’s ambitions for the future.
The Northern tech industry
There is obviously a digital boom occurring in Northern England, with an increase in demand for tech jobs which are paid 33% more than the average salary in the UK. Despite this, Christine Bellamy from BBC Education said that positions for software engineers are very difficult to fill. This is due to two factors: education not preparing young people enough for the workplace and employers being vague about what expertise they require.
One solution suggested by Lord Kenneth Baker (Chair of Baker Dearing Educational Trust) was to invest in degree apprenticeships. These programs equip young people with specific skills for the workplace and provide competitive salaries. Others had a different approach and suggested that ‘good quality work involves employers investing in training’, and that training on the job is the best way to equip workers with better tech skills.
Our experience supports a combination of the two. Investing in employees is at the core of our business; last year we spent £51,500 on training, which is approximately 2 training sessions per each member of staff. We also offer apprenticeships which are a great way to train staff in skills most relevant to our business. Tom Idle, IT Support Technician, is on level 3 of his apprenticeship at Techbuyer and says that being an apprentice is “a lot more applicable to business” than a university degree. What’s more, a paid position is much more attractive than rising university fees.
It was encouraging to see that the conference discussed how green growth (also known as clean growth) will shape the future of Northern business. One example is Biotechnology, which generates £3.7 billion in revenue for the UK economy… and thousands of jobs. The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology is a great example of this. It is opening a new hub in the city this month, which will research ways to degrade plastic whilst creating useful energy at the same time. The sustainable focus of Manchester is nothing new; at the Northern Economic Summit in 2018, Andy Burnham said that the city is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality in 2038, and he took pride in the environmental focus of the city.
In our own way we are making technology greener by refurbishing used IT equipment, preventing good hardware going to landfill and giving it a second lease of life. Only 15% of e-waste in the world is recycled and most hardware is made from finite resources, so it is crucial to reuse as much as possible. We are also contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals by aiming to reuse 1,000,000 tonnes of technology by 2024.
Despite political differences, the Northern Powerhouse Conference confirmed that Northern England is a vibrant and creative place to work, and that investment continues to stimulate business growth. It was great to see that the future of Northern business is likely to centre around sustainable solutions and research, and that we are moving in the right direction with our greener technology. It is a time of change for Northern businesses and we eagerly await news of further expansion and success.