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Jo Miller: We must put people at the heart of the Powerhouse

Jo Miller
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So the long-awaited People’s Powerhouse is nearly upon us. 

Whilst the event was originally born from frustration at the overwhelmingly male dominated Northern Powerhouse conference exhibition in Manchester earlier this year, it has become much more than that. That frustration, expressed on Twitter and fermented with Wigan MBC’s marvellous chief executive Donna Hall, had a serious point.

The best decisions are made by groups of people who broadly reflect the population. We need to get much better at this in local government. Whilst our frustration started in gender balance, after all 50% of the population are women, it is much more than that. Within a few hours of a Twitter rant, the desire for a different types of conversation became immediately apparent. After a quick call to Doncaster Rovers who agreed to host us, the People’s Powerhouse was born. Interrupted by an unplanned general election, the date is now upon us and the need for the conversation and a changed approach is more vital than ever.

Too often in our talk of powerhouses and engines, we miss out people.

I’m fuelled by a belief that strong vibrant economies require strong cohesive communities, that growth needs to be good growth, and that a rising tide does not float all boats. We need to design communities with people in mind, attract growth with people in mind and do things with people, not to people and to encourage their contribution. Some people will say this is soft or fluffy, I say it’s the only way to deliver good sustainable growth that works for everyone. It’s at the heart of mayor Ros Jones’s (Lab) manifesto in Doncaster and an ambition shared across our public, private and voluntary sector. What you do, how you do it, and having people at the heart of decision making really matters and pays dividends.

LGC is media partner on the People’s Powerhouse event. It takes place in Doncaster on 12 July

The People’s Powerhouse event aims to create a space and dialogue to consider what kind of “Northern Powerhouse’ we want to be; and to move the discussion onto thinking about people, skills, health and communities alongside transport and infrastructure.

I’m delighted that the agenda for our event has been put together collaboratively, with innovation workshops crowd sourced and pitched. A good chunk of the day is given over to workshop sessions so that we can really make sure we’re capturing all the ideas that are out there. We are supported in our event by Capita and PWC and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, with media partners in LGC and the Guardian. Tracy Fishwick of social enterprise Transform Lives has done an incredible job curating the agenda.

I think there’s a huge opportunity for all sectors across the north to collaborate and share ideas, and bring back best practice that is being implemented elsewhere to our own localities. I know it’s really hard to do this when you’re busy running a small organisation. We want to find new ways of making it easier to influence policy and decision making, spot innovations and help share what’s working by bringing private, public, voluntary and community voices together in a new way across the north.

Much of what we can do will be up to us. Devolution brings new opportunities, but now more than ever before we all need to realise that improving peoples’ lives is all of our business.

Our many speakers from across the north include a great female line up including Dame Louise Casey, PWC’s Karen Finlayson and Big Issue North CEO Fay Selvan. We have some fabulous men too, including Manchester metropolitan mayor Andy Burnham (Lab) who has already said tackling homelessness in Greater Manchester is one of his top priorities and Social Enterprise UK chairman, Lord Victor Adebowale (Crossbench), chair of Social Enterprise UK.

The day and discussions will span the geography of the north, and not just focus on Greater Manchester, with the event taking place in Doncaster as a deliberate way of widening the debate to encompass a wider range of views and voices.

The aim is to build a long-term movement for change that supports good and inclusive growth in the North with a particular focus on how people are the key to growth. The aim is to include all sectors and sections of the community, harnessing the combined skills and leverage of the public sector, voluntary, community, civic leaders and business. I hope to see you there.



“Up until now, talk of the Northern Powerhouse has focussed heavily on issues such as infrastructure and transport but it is vital that we include people and communities in that discussion as well. I am chief executive of a social enterprise called Turning Point, and see on a daily basis the importance of the work people in the organisation do to support people with mental health and substance misuse issues, and learning disabilities.

“We cannot allow anyone to be left behind. Investment in the north must be inclusive and must be used to support communities as well as businesses, adding value to the lives of real people. ‘People’s Powerhouse’ perfectly reflects our vision for economic investment in the north of England.”

Victor Adebowale

Chairman, Social Enterprise UK

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