My busy schedule meant just a fleeting visit to the Northern Powerhouse conference last week, so I offer two points of note in amongst the vast amount of discussion and debate.
First up: gender imbalance. Having made the news in the run up to the conference, the hot topic on the stage and in the audience was whether the speakers were representative. The lack of diversity was startling, but was not just restricted to a lack of women. The organisers opened the event with an apology and a promise to do better next time, and in the end I attended only one panel that was exclusively male. The issue for me was the lack of general diversity – age, skin colour, social background… The Northern Powerhouse is an idea that has to speak to (and therefore listen to) everyone if it is to succeed on a broader level i.e. not just be about increased development.
The second elephant in the room seemed to me to be the lack of George Osborne. Having established the Northern Powerhouse concept, the flag-bearer was notable by his absence in only the conference’s second year, leading many to ask ‘who’s in charge?’ The consensus seemed to be that we, the north, need a single clear voice if we are to speak as one, and be heard – a real figurehead. The question of who would represent the interests of the north in Brexit negotiations was met with nervous laughter and a panel all looking slightly awkwardly at one another – it wasn’t a particularly reassuring sight!