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Our Network: A greater vision for Manchester?
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, recently outlined a sensational plan for a London-inspired integrated transport system for the region. The ‘Our Network’ programme is a real attempt to close the north-south divide. This game-changing decision could positively affect the labour market and recruitment in the north-west by significantly improving employment opportunities.
The proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail transport network, also known as HS3, is expected to be operational by 2029, still some time away, but with the framework that Burnham intends to put in place, perhaps a necessary timeline. Burnham’s blueprint for the transport network includes tram extensions, stretching from Middleton to Port Salford, and Stalybridge. Brand new east-west orbital bus links and tram-trains will travel to Hale, Warrington, Gorton and Glossop, and there is talk of a ‘fully accessible’ bus service for people with disabilities.
With 1,000 planned new park and ride spaces, this is a move geared to get the region moving again and growing into one of the key employment hubs of the UK.
Publicly, Burnham has said: “Our current public transport system is fragmented and unreliable, with often confusing ticketing and passenger information.” Intelligent Transport. (2019).
This suggests that Burnham sees an integrated transport network as the best way forward to transform the region and if he can cut congestion, and encourage businesses to relocate, then the possibilities are limitless.
Graham Lucas, Managing Director at Michael Page, hails from Manchester and regularly commutes between the region and London. It puts him in an ideal position to comment on Andy Burnham’s plans and the fact that poor transport links in the Northern regions have so far proven to be a major challenge. He said: “It has certainly been a challenge, but the challenge has differed because we [Michael Page] cover so many industries. If we look at professional services, a large proportion of businesses in the sector are located around the city centre.” He added: “Certain towns have found it to be inherently prohibitive from a commute perspective, or cost-to-client perspective.”
If specific towns have found it to be inherently prohibitive, there is a clear need to make the commute for everyone a lot easier and more desirable. In doing so, the project should nurture the growth of local talent. Discussing the challenge of industries that are based out of the city centres, Lucas said: “Logistics or manufacturing, are traditionally based outside of the city centres and around motorway networks, typically due to the required space for goods coming in and out. The pinch points for those sectors have been more relatable to the size and network potential of motorways, how well they are linked, and the bypass networks.”
Placing candidates into roles would prove to be more difficult in the areas that are not as well connected, simply because the entire tram network is lacking in many areas of Manchester. Perhaps the issue isn’t just in Manchester. Why not improve connectivity between neighbouring cities and towns like Liverpool, Leeds, Warrington, and Preston?
On this point, Lucas commented: “The ability to go to Liverpool to Manchester or Manchester to Leeds, is [currently] borderline manageable for those professionals in middle management to senior management roles, while not being so for a vast majority of other workers.
“But if you look at the distance between those cities, it really should be much quicker and we struggle to tap into talent from Leeds, to work in Manchester.”
The link between Manchester and Leeds is high on the Government’s agenda with new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, pledging to provide funding. During a recent speech at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, Mr Johnson said: “I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail, what we [Conservative Party] did for Crossrail in London. Today, I’m going to deliver on my commitment to that vision with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”
The timeline for this deal and for detailed plans to be put in place, is autumn 2019. There is an acknowledgement that the plan should, “Unlock jobs and boost growth.” Progress has been slow, something the Prime Minister recognises. He said: ‘It’s time we got this whole thing moving and it’s time we put some real substance into the idea of Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership was established five years ago by George Osborne to drive exactly this. Henry Morrison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, believes now that there is a plan on the table for a network across the North, funding for a line through Leeds and onto Manchester is a good step forward for surrounding cities. Speaking on BBC News, 27 January 2019, he said: “There is a current proposal for a new line with the central station of Bradford.”
Sandra Hill, Managing Director of Page Personnel, and a native of Liverpool, clearly sees the benefits of overcoming the challenges ahead. She said: “A modern, effective transport system, is what defines great international cities and city regions. Connecting people to employment, education and leisure, also supports and grows the economy. We need our great Northern cities and regions connected to each other, so that we attract and retain the best talent.”
There will no doubt be specific challenges for various industries, but collectively, they would be supportive of the proposed investment and development.
Hill added: “We have seen bus journeys increase in both Manchester and the Liverpool, but unfortunately our rail and road system, put us at a competitive disadvantage to other parts of the UK and Europe. This needs to change if we are to fulfil the potential of the Northern Power House.”
The evidence and overall push, suggests that an improved transport system in and around specific parts of Manchester, would help recruitment processes by widening the talent pool. With Crossrail delayed due to high costs, there is a real chance for it to be combined with the HS3 project eventually, and the UK’s rail infrastructure being revolutionised. The Northern Gateway also presents the potential for thousands of new homes to be built on the Greater Manchester green belt and within reach of the M60, M62, and M66. An improved transport network would be an attractive prospect to those living just outside of the city too.
Local businesses would inadvertently increase the diversity of their employee base. However, the current gaps in the transport infrastructure appear to be limiting the diversity of the workforce. The strong transport links in Sale, Manchester, have attracted an increasingly more affluent professional. As a result, house prices have risen and more investment in property has poured in, which has inadvertently driven those on lower incomes out to other locations where transport links are not as strong. It is those current gaps within the transport infrastructure that begin to limit the diversity of the talent pool.
Yet, the project has the potential to kick-start a real socio-economic shift, thus creating a high demand for property and other necessities. An easier commute would take away the silent stress of travelling, boosting employee wellbeing, and leave employees more energised at the start of their day. A world-class transport system would also lead to better investment opportunities and over time, a better service centre, or additional production lines. Organisations will open up new offices, happy to relocate and rebuild with skilled workers, and local talent, providing a real boost to the region.
So how are we, at PageGroup, planning for the potential transport changes? Both Lucas and Hill are adamant that we will be at the heart of the conversation, and Lucas concluded: “By being vocal, amplifying the challenges and opportunities of all our customers.”
With real pools of talent at its disposal, the North and its potential for growth through the inclusion of this new transport network, presents real opportunity.