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The Northern Powerhouse now has a Minister, or two!

15 May 2015

A look at the new Government’s appointments with responsibility for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

James Wharton has been appointed as the Minister responsible for the Northern Powerhouse, the Government’s initiative to strengthen the economy in the North of England.

The role is based in the Department for Communities and Local Government headed by former Science, Universities, and Cities Minister, Greg Clark. Science is at the centre of the Northern Powerhouse strategy, which was devised and championed by George Osborne and much touted ahead of the General Election. It’s therefore surprising to see the initiative sited solely in DCLG, despite considerable policy overlap with BIS responsibilities. However, regional development is a strong policy interest for Greg and he will be familiar with the important role science, engineering and higher education play in local and regional economies from his time as Science Minister.

This is the first ministerial role for James Wharton but one that suits his strong interest in regional development around his constituency in the North East. The appointment might also quell criticisms that the Northern Powerhouse is too Manchester-focussed.

Following his election as MP for Stockton South in 2010, James gave his maiden speech during a debate on the higher skilled economy. He called for the existing North East region skills base to be built upon in order to achieve a stronger economy. However, he has not remarked specifically on the role of science in the economy when speaking in House of Commons debates.

The Conservative’s manifesto said the party would back scientific and technical strengths as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative by creating new institutions such as the Royce Institute for Advanced Materials in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, and the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation in Newcastle. These both received capital investments in the most recent Autumn Statement.

The economist Jim O’Neill has also just been appointed as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, responsible for driving forward city devolution and the Northern Powerhouse. He has long been an advocate for the concept of combining the strengths of the major Northern cities but might be best known to the science community for his recent Chairmanship of the Antimicrobial Resistance Review. He has also been given a peerage and will sit on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.

Science and engineering play a critical role in growing the economy and creating well-paid jobs. But how best to make investments to achieve those aims on a regional level is an ongoing and frought question, one that the research community will be working with the Government to address over the coming years (see our response to the Nurse Review for some of our thoughts).

We’ll be contacting James about his new role and look forward to working with him to ensure that science and engineering are able to make a full contribution to the Northern Powerhouse.

You can read more about the other ministerial appointments important to science and engineering on our Ministers to watch page.