“‘Northern powerhouse’ and ‘levelling up’ – empty slogans or reality?”

Feb 15, 2022

With ASKAR SHEIBANI,

CEO, Comtek Network Systems UK Ltd and chair, DBF

About eight years ago the UK government pledged to transform the economic fortunes of the North of England and North Wales.

The then Chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, announced the creation of the Northern Powerhouse. This sounded like an exciting opportunity for the North of England and North Wales.

We felt the government had finally woken up and recognised the existence of the vast economic inequalities between North and South.

The Government appointed various ministers to implement this great transformative economic growth of the North.

Unfortunately, due to rethinking, dithering and ministerial changes, this amazing promise never materialised.

I am sure the UK government will dispute and very likely will produce impressive stats to prove the North’s economic fortune has indeed been drastically transformed.

However, we grassroots business owners know well that there have been no changes and the status quo has continued as before.

The present government also came up in 2019 with another fantastic transformative idea called the “Levelling Up” agenda.

Billions of pounds would be invested in Northern England and North Wales. So far, we have received only great announcements and promises.

The question is, can the government really deliver on the slogans and ideas they are announcing every year? Why do the vast majority of all these great economic growth promises never materialise?

Why, when some of these grand ideas are implemented, do they face huge delays and hurdles and end up many times over the initial forecasted budget?

Should we believe the sincerity of our political leaders when they announce these fantastic ideas? Do the ministers have well-resourced advisors to help them with credible plans?

I believe the vast majority of the present ministers and politicians genuinely want to do their best for the country and the areas they represent.

The government means to deliver on their promises. The biggest question is, what is stopping them from delivering the great ideas they announce so frequently?

I believe most European countries, including the UK, have over centuries developed some of the most rigid bureaucratic policies that hinder any changes a country needs to implement.

One of the key reasons Brexiters argued against the EU was its colossal bureaucracy, seeing it as an expensive major barrier to economic growth.

I agree, the EU suffers hugely from their wasteful bureaucratic monstrosity. However, the UK equally suffers from its own gigantic bureaucratic barriers which are proving to be impossible to remove. In fact, since we have left the EU, businesses are now facing more bureaucracy, hindrances and costs.

We have, in the past decades, witnessed how impotent our governments have been in reforming the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police.

Reforming the old established rules, processes and economically nonsensical regulations and laws will be a colossal challenge for the UK government.

Whenever there is an award of a budget or grant for an infrastructure project, the number of expensive hurdles you must go through to convince the treasury that the project is credible is unbelievably long and tedious.

By the time you go through various consultations, workshops, different levels of scrutiny, appointment of consultants and procurement processes, at least two years would be wasted.

Sadly, by the time we are nearly ready to implement the projects, some private sector investors get fed up and pull out or it becomes too expensive to implement.

We have seen some of these project failures in North Wales, such as the Wylfa Nuclear power station project.

While we are busy fighting through the bureaucratic obstacles; some other countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China will be busy implementing their projects well ahead of us. Besides all these frustrating massive time delays, there is always a huge cost involved in getting to the point of delivery and by this time the world has changed and the budget may prove to be wrong too.

Until the UK government accepts the painful reality and finds a way to dismantle the country’s old outdated bureaucratic walls; all the slogans and promises will be just undeliverable, empty, wishful thinking.