Skip to main content

Talk to us: 0333 004 4488 |

How can the North ‘win’? Five common-sense concepts from Northern business leaders

4 min read

True North

Leeds town hall 1600

We recently joined our True North data partner Open Innovations at its collaborative event, ‘How Does the North Win?’, held in partnership with Arup at its office in Leeds.

It brought together a range of influential leaders from the region to discuss what ‘winning’ could look like for the North on its own terms.

The event aligned with the ambitions of the True North network, which shines a spotlight on inspiring organisations driving change across the region. It was fascinating to hear the insights and conversations from speakers at the event, as well as meet connections old and new. 

This is what we learned.


1. Northern growth is a team sport

As it is in sport, no team wins on the strength of its individuals alone. Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds City Council applied this analogy to the North, calling for a move away from a deficit model of devolution where towns and cities pitch against one another for central government funding, and instead towards a shared vision. 

He added: “We have amazing assets across the North that make us an alternative option to London. But critically we have our own strengths that mean we can complement it, rather than try to replicate it.”


2. Winning cities means winning towns

Paul Swinney, Director of Policy and Research at the think tank Centre For Cities, said that the relative underperformance of Northern cities is the cause of economic disparity.

The economic performance of Bristol, for example, positively impacts 18 nearby towns and 89,000 people in terms of education, employment and training opportunities. A city of comparative size in the North — Newcastle — impacts only nine towns and 36,000 people. Such underperformance in the North is why NEET rates (Not in Education, Employment or Training) are higher in towns like Blackpool and Middlesbrough, compared to similar towns in the South.


3. Putting our weight behind world-leading industries

Event co-host Tom Bridges of Arup explained that the potential for the North to lead the way in green industries and infrastructure had brought the company to the region.

This echoed what Tom Riordan had already told us about what makes the North unique: “Climate change is moving us to a new economic model that needs us to be more balanced in terms of growth. We in the North have kept the lights on in the rest of the country over many decades, so we need to unite around these assets with a Northern clean energy strategy.”


4. Moving beyond the Northern bubble

Jen Williams, Northern England correspondent for the Financial Times, called on everyone in the North to be self-reflective when we criticise those in the South for not ‘getting out of London’.

“The same is true in reverse. We can’t operate in a bubble in the North either”. 

Paul Swinney expanded, explaining it was important not to be ignorant in assuming that everywhere in the North is the same:

“Different places play different roles in the economy and each has their own unique assets,” he said. “It means we should be ensuring that every place is the best version of itself.”


5. Rethinking economic indicators

Eve Roodhouse of Leeds City Council explained its Social Progress Index with Open Innovations. This has allowed the council to look at three years of data trends, to more effectively make decisions on economic policy and set consistent parameters for inclusive growth, rather than use traditional economic indicators that don't tell the whole story.

Indexes like this are vital — once they are built they can be replicated over and over again elsewhere. 


Moving forward

True North is a network of purpose-led organisations committed to collaborating and playing their part in supporting the future of the region. It will leverage a data-led approach through its four advisory council working groups each focusing on one challenge area, as identified through the Defining Northern Ambition report released last year — People, Skills & The Future, Innovation & Change, Sustainable Growth, and Purpose & Social Impact.

To do so, we're excited to announce a partnership with Open Innovation who hosted this event, to leverage its open source data and identify where each of these groups should put their attention and the practical action we can take.

If you want to get involved or have any interesting ideas around the areas that the council’s working groups should focus their attention on,  sign up for the True North network here and get in touch. 

Related insights