This article first appeared in The Yorkshire Post, 29 September 2015
A golden decade. That was the promise of the Chancellor, on his high-profile trade visit to China last week. By 2025, he wants China to be Britain’s second largest trading partner.
It’s a bold ambition, and to make it happen, Britain needs to become the home of tomorrow’s economy: to be seen as the economy of the future, a home of talent and innovation. And by doing that, China and the world’s capital will follow.
Make no mistake, international liquidity is coming and the UK needs to get ready. For the North, that is especially true. A big focus of the China delegation was how the Dragon Economy can breath fire into the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse ambitions. Chinese investment in the North’s infrastructure, skills and companies was the unabashed aim.
To ensure this is followed through, the North’s cities and companies have an opportunity to work on their promotional game. Capital follows ideas. And ideas can’t be capitalised if they are a best kept secret.
That is why signposting and packaging the Northern opportunity matters. In a world where there is not enough attention to go around, the best story wins. And central to that story is the presentation of the UK as a home to tomorrow’s economy.
As part of the China pitch, the Government-backed International Festival for Business (IFB) 2016 was launched in Shanghai last week by the Treasury Minister Lord O’Neill. It’s a global initiative I am working on, and I believe it to be a central part of the promotional armoury for a forward- looking UK message.
Initiatives like this matter, because promotion will be at the heart of the North’s commercial and economic success in the years ahead. If the Northern Powerhouse were a business, it would be a company preparing for flotation.
Its component parts may be great cities with global brands, but as a collective concept it is on its equivalent of an IPO roadshow, knocking on the doors of sceptical, forensic investors. To get air- borne, it needs to be every bit as thorough as a company preparing for that process: honing the story, burnishing the assets, perfecting the pitch.
Projection and promotion must be at the heart of the Powerhouse story, and trips like the China visit are essential opportunities to develop that narrative. If the North is to succeed as a new, combined economic engine, it must learn to work together and thrive in the global economy. That requires a demographic and commercial density which can only be achieved through collaboration, matched by an outlook which is relentlessly international.
The Powerhouse will be built on the endeavours of companies who take advantage of the increasingly open global export market.
The appetite for British products is clear to see. Chinese imports of British food and drink increased by 12 per cent last year, with Yorkshire staples like tea and pork seeing the benefit.
From Hull-based Cranswick, which exports £24m of pork products to the People’s Republic annually, to a cherished Yorkshire brand like Taylor’s of Harrogate, which has been selling tea to China for over a decade, the county’s food and drink companies are showing the way.
For investors, that means the smart choices will be companies with a clear export mandate. The companies that prosper in this world will be those that show enough appetite to go global and take advantage of new opportunities.
Manufacturers are in the van- guard of this export movement. At the IFB Shanghai launch, one of the Northern companies presenting was BAC Mono, a sport- car manufacturer seeking capital investment to expand its production facilities. Founded in 2009, it is exactly the sort of high end, luxury manufacturing brand that the North can be selling to the world.
Region needs to act now
The North would do well to think of its own economic challenge in terms of an investment roadshow.
It must package together all its assets — from companies to infrastructure and research expertise — as investment opportunities, pitched at a global level.
Last week’s delegation was a start, and events such as IFB 2016 have a central role to play. But these must move from the exception to the rule. If the North is to enjoy its own golden decade, it needs to get pitching.