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Will 2018 be the year of community and collaboration in the public sector?

Alex Cousins was recently interviewed by Insider for her views on what the Northern Powerhouse initiative means to her, the opportunities presented by the government's industrial strategy, and the importance of ensuring growth benefits communities across the North.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

It is an opportunity to support growth and public-sector reform in the region, resulting in the growth of UK plc. Many of our local government and public sector partners want to improve their place economically and support their people to contribute to that growth, attract inward investment, create sustainable communities and sustain local public services.

Three years have passed since the phrase 'Northern Powerhouse' was first coined. Has enough happened since then?

Yes and no. There has been a loss of momentum in some respects, with leading national figures no longer in government. That said, local and regional leaders are continuing with the agenda, investors still talk of the brand and the industrial strategy, devolution and collaboration continues. A lack of clarity around big projects for the north, such as the development of HS3, continues to contribute towards ongoing hesitance from investors to make crucial decisions for cities.

The industrial strategy for the north is also particularly interesting as it not only supports UK plc but the Northern Powerhouse in particular as both are committed attracting investment inwards.

How will the appointment of metro mayors help the initiative?

Metro mayors are leading strategic regeneration and public-sector reform with hard and soft powers; they have mandates and are vitally important in maintaining momentum. For example, Andy Burnham has been active in progressing key topics, with summits such as his green summit and his aging well summit to tackle the big issues that affect Manchester the most. Sustaining the momentum will be the challenge as the needs of areas change and decisions centrally are made.

What must the new government do to re-energise the Northern Powerhouse?

There is an opportunity through the industrial strategy and Brexit to rebalance and drive the economy. The whole country must perform well to ensure we are a truly international player in the global economy.

What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?

Good growth. That is, growth that benefits the people in the communities. This is about ensuring everyone gets an opportunity to contribute to the growth as well as benefit from it. The Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, at his recent digital and tech summit said he made this a priority to ensure that Manchester residents benefit from the new jobs being created in the digital industry by skilling up young people to ensure that growth and benefits stay in the region for the communities. Big businesses deliver growth for cities and it is up to those businesses to ensure that this growth is good growth that benefits everyone in the community. 

Let's not forget that devolution deals are about being self-sustainable, with people contributing through tax and increasing their self-reliance. It's a social and economic conversation and was highlighted at the People's Powerhouse report recently launched at the House of Lord's which, I am proud to say, Capita supported. 

Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?

There are new collaborations coming together where it makes sense. I look at Lancashire and, many years ago, Lancashire included Merseyside, Manchester and Cumbria and those links are not forgotten. There are also some Lancashire towns who see themselves as part of greater Manchester and there are some areas in the Liverpool city region aligned with Cheshire and West Lancashire, and the university links between Cumbria and Lancashire are very strong. They collaborate because they see the benefits, and with more infrastructure connections making it easier to travel or to join together digitally via the likes of the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN). This should only increase collaboration.

First published by Insider.

Photo of Alex Cousins

Alex Cousins

Business development director, Capita

Alex is a passionate public servant who has worked across the public and private sector for over 30 years. She has been involved and led transformation programmes that have led to public sector reform. She leads on Capita’s Northern Powerhouse strategy, and has created Capita’s Place Framework which enables good growth and public sector reform for people and place and for the organisations within the system.

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