Could new political power boost business in Manchester?

Could new political power boost business in...One area of business decision making is that of location, with the potential risks and rewards often being keenly balanced.

For example, a firm seeking to move some or all of its operations away from London may find it saves money through having lower office rental costs, not to mention avoiding having to pay staff London weighting. 

However, to some potential overseas trading partners, it may be seen to have less significance due to being located outside the capital.

This north-south divide has been an issue for decades, but a series of major steps have been taken or proposed to change all this. Could it be they will help create what chancellor George Osborne called a “northern powerhouse”, along with its neighbours in Merseyside and West Yorkshire?

Undoubtedly the city is at the heart of a great deal of activity. In 2011 the ten Greater Manchester authorities joined forces as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, partly to save cash on overlapping functions as austerity arrived, but also to co-ordinate policies like economic development and transport.

The latter, of course, has been the centre of plenty of attention, with HS2 on its way, an HS3 link to Leeds proposed and the Metrolink tram network rapidly expanding. Indeed, this week Mr Osborne had a ride in one himself as the new line from the city centre to the airport was readied.

While this route in its entirety offers a longer and more expensive trip than a direct train from Piccadilly station, it does mean areas not previously served are linked to the growing tram network. That includes the sprawling council estates of Wythenshawe, which until now had no tram or train connections, but can now enjoy better connections with the new enterprise zone next door to the airport.

Future transport plans for the city region – and much else – will become the responsibility of a mayor for Greater Manchester, effectively a Boris Johnson of the north.

Mr Osborne said: “This will give Mancunians a powerful voice and bring practical improvements for local people, with better transport links, an Oyster-style travelcard, and more investment in skills and the city’s economy. I want to talk to other cities who are keen to follow Manchester’s lead – every city is different, and no model of local power will be the same.”

In London, of course, Mr Johnson is forever talking about the importance of attracting investment and adding to the capital’s own transport infrastructure – a blueprint for Crossrail 2 was unveiled only last week. He was at pains to state that there should be no “either/or” about where the government spends, on the grounds that the whole economy will benefit from investment in the infrastructure of various metropolitan areas.

For Manchester, this does not just mean further Metrolink projects such as the planned line to the Trafford Centre, but the creation of new science facilities, particularly in research focused on new materials like graphene.

The hope is these combined developments of government investment, new localised political powers and better transport will make Greater Manchester a city region with its own profile and booming economy, one that will balance growth away from London. If so, businesses may find the northern metropolis a far more attractive place to be located.

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