When Oldham’s full council met in July its debate focused on two main strands.
The first was the known and predicted economic and business implications of the EU referendum. Alongside these are wider social cohesion implications and risks from the negative focus of the campaign on immigration issues. Local councillors are concerned about both aspects in equal measure.
Coincidentally, a week after the referendum, the government also received the report of the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (NPIER). This was commissioned by Transport for the North on behalf of leaders across the north, and found that:
- the north’s economic performance gap is persistent and entrenched, averaging about 25% below the rest of England
- productivity differences account for the majority of this gap
- poor productivity performance is explained mainly in terms of workforce skills, although issues relating to technology, investment and connectivity also have a bearing.
The NPIER made a strong argument for continuing investment in the north’s distinctive sector capabilities, including advanced manufacturing and materials, health innovation, digital and financial and professional services, and infrastructure.
A matter of weeks prior to this, we had also agreed a brand new strategic investment framework (SIF) and work and skills strategy for Oldham with a strong focus on investment, skills acquisition and in-work progression.
Although we are concerned about the ripple effect of the referendum result on business and investor confidence and on community relations, it strikes me that an asset-based approach to the next phase of our work is by far the best strategy. The NPIER reinforces this, as does our collaborative work across Greater Manchester.
By focusing on our economic strengths and assets - our prime sector capabilities and the latent talent in our local population that we can harness through improved skills support - we have the best opportunity of shoring up local business confidence and wider investor confidence in our city region.
Since the referendum I have held two big business events in Oldham. One was with the manufacturing sector and another with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. At both, employers told me: “We had a plan for investment and growth before the referendum, and now we’re sticking to it.” That is a great statement of confidence in the North.
We cannot treat this with complacency in our growth and regeneration strategies, but it is a great statement from business of the asset based approach we need to see us through what will be a turbulent period this autumn.
Tom Stannard, director of enterprise and skills, Oldham MBC