The State of the State

Simon Bedford, partner at Deloitte in the North West, discusses the business advisory firm’s State of the State report, and how investing in skills can support the levelling up agenda.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the levelling up agenda and the Northern Powerhouse has been put on the back burner. However, as we look to Build Back Better, these issues are set to take on even greater importance, driving value back into the UK economy and creating regional centres of excellence across the country.

To accomplish this, the government needs to recognise the challenges faced when it comes to skills. This has for so long been the biggest reason for businesses wanting to move to Manchester: access to a world class grad talent pool, early scale skills initiatives and a thriving digital and tech sector. However, with employment rates falling and companies looking to restructure rather than expand over the last nine months, the public has recognised the scale of the issue.

According to our latest State of the State report, an annual survey of members of the public across the UK, the North West would choose to invest more heavily in the areas of job creation, skill development and education than the rest of the UK. Indeed, nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed suggested that opportunities for young people is the area set to be most negatively affected by the pandemic – potentially hugely damaging for a region with many of the country’s best academic institutions.

As part of the launch, we hosted an exclusive virtual State of the State roundtable, including some of the most significant influencers in the North West on the topic of public sector spending. This includes Sir Howard Bernstein, ex-Manchester City Council head, Malcolm Press, Vice Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University and Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group.

All were in agreement - when it comes to levelling up, the North has to grasp the opportunity and set the agenda. The focus needs to be on understanding the training needs and skills gaps that currently exist in the region, and how we can support our high growth industries, such as advanced manufacturing, digital and life sciences to create new jobs.

Another key consideration could be the potential public and private partnerships to improve skills in areas with enormous growth potential. For example, the North West hosts some of the most influential digital and cyber organisations, including GCHQ and the BBC. By creating partnerships between these public organisations, our world class universities and industry, we can provide the private sector with the tools they need to upskill staff and drive future growth.

Access to skills is set to stay on the agenda for the foreseeable future as the region looks to Build Back Better, but taking the right approach now can help the North West drive the levelling up agenda and support the recovery of the UK economy.

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