New research conducted for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Policy Conference recorded very high levels of awareness of the Northern Powerhouse among small business owners in the North of England. Over nine in ten (93%) small business owners claimed to know about it – although a fifth (21%) of those said they were not clear what the concept meant in practice.
The FSB survey also found half of small businesses in the North of England (50%) think the Northern Powerhouse concept will have a positive impact on their business. However, almost a fifth (16%) Northern firms still need to be persuaded about how the Northern Powerhouse will positively impact their business.
With the implications of greater devolution of powers in England under debate at the FSB Policy Conference, FSB also asked businesses for their views about what the priorities should be for the Northern Powerhouse to succeed.
FSB found significant support right across the UK for increased local control over public spending with one in three businesses (36%) listing this as a priority. This increased to two in five (40%) among businesses in the North of England. However, there was less support for local tax setting powers with just 16% of UK businesses backing the idea.
Businesses in the North of England indicated their top priorities for the Northern Powerhouse are:
1) Greater local control over spending (40%)
2) Investment in digital infrastructure (37%)
3) Investment in inter-city transport (37%)
4) Investment in workplace skills (36%)
Commenting on the results Mike Cherry, FSB policy director, said: “The concept and goals of the Northern Powerhouse have gained widespread support and awareness among businesses across Northern England – but we now need to see tangible delivery and results for this support to continue and grow.
“Businesses want the ongoing political discussions about devolving powers to translate into real investment in the infrastructure Northern businesses need. The way local authorities invest must reflect the priorities of local job-creating entrepreneurs.
“Our research shows that firms want to see a focus on improved transport links, digital infrastructure and workforce skills. Continued support for the concept of the Northern Powerhouse from the business community will depend on delivery of these priorities.”
Chancellor George Osborne added: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and their support is crucial to help build the Northern Powerhouse.
“It is less than two years since I first set out ambitious plans to make this a reality and it’s fantastic that so many small firms know about and support our plans.
“As this research recognises, our devolution revolution is already empowering local areas, in the most fundamental shake up of the way the country is governed in a generation.”