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Putting Growth in its Place

Despite the political turmoil engulfing the United Kingdom, there is growing evidence to suggest that the "northern powerhouse" model of regional development outside of London is working. If the government fulfills its recent commitment to support a new Northern Powerhouse Rail project, current progress could gain even more momentum.

LONDON – After leaving Goldman Sachs in May 2013, I had the privilege of chairing an independent City Growth Commission to study the geographical imbalances of the British economy. Our task was to determine why London and the southeast had become so dominant, and how the economic performance of other major urban centers might be improved.

Our most important conclusion was that key Northern English cities were close enough to be united into a single market similar in size to that of the London metropolitan area. If the economic and commercial agglomeration we envisioned could be realized, the United Kingdom would become home to not one but two globally competitive city-based commercial hubs. Crucially, what came to be called the northern powerhouse model was designed in such a way as to complement London, rather than undercut it through competition. The goal was both to restore geographic balance and raise the UK’s overall growth performance.

After then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne adopted the plan in June 2014, I joined Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to help manage its implementation. But, owing to the Brexit referendum in June 2016, both men left government by the next month, and by September, I had left, too. Still, I have been able to keep tabs on the plan’s progress as the vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a non-governmental organization launched by Osborne in the fall of 2016.

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