Despite sustained economic improvements over the past few years, the UK’s second biggest economy is now set for a strategic rethink to ensure continued growth and success.
The North West, which also has the second largest population in the UK, has just devised a new roadmap for economic success, to develop a clear and measurable vision for the region.
The Regional Economic Strategy is currently out for consultation and the new economic blueprint is based on a major analysis of the whole region and the problems this identified.
The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) is managing the project. It hopes to improve areas such as productivity, skills, innovation and enterprise, with a particular focus on creating a knowledge economy.
Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the NWDA, says the document provides the opportunity for everyone in the region to improve the long-term prospects of the North West.
“This is an important opportunity to help shape the future economic development of the region,” he says. “The regional economy is performing above the national average in certain sectors, however we continue to face long-term challenges. It is vital that the new strategy provides the foundations to address these challenges.”
The economy in the North West is incredibly diverse, with around 350,000 companies operating in the region – including more than 1,700 foreign-owned businesses.
Seventy per cent of all the North West’s 4.1 million-strong workforce are employed in the service industry.
Despite a slight fall in employment over the past quarter, the overall picture is not significantly different from last year. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the employment rate is 73.3%, a fall of 0.5% compared to last year. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was unchanged over the past 12 months at 4.4%.
This stability in the jobs market, coupled with the success of businesses in the region, has led to far more opportunities for professional workers, such as accountants and HR professionals.
Simon Wooding, a director at Cheshire-based recruitment firm WWB, believes the professional services market is experiencing its biggest boom since 2001.
“The market is fairly buoyant and up significantly on last year, but there’s a shortage of candidates for some roles, particularly in the finance sector.
“The HR market is very buoyant and a number of specialist roles have been emerging over the last year. Many companies are looking for interims or project-based professionals for more commercial roles,” he says.
David Colgrave, operations director at Imprint, is based in Manchester. He says HR professionals are in demand across the whole region.
“Employment growth in the North West is the fastest in the country. The economy and recruitment market has grown hugely in recent years, especially in professional sectors,” he explains.
“HR has been a major growth area for this economy because businesses need to keep pace with all the growth and investment,” he adds.
Living in the region
Adult education has been a key theme over the past financial year, with the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) creating around 26,198 learning opportunities in the region. Skills and training have been earmarked as one of the region’s five strategic objectives and aRegional Skills Partnership has been established to address the issues. There are 3,810 schools and 62 colleges in the region.
The region is served by two main airports – Manchester International and Liverpool John Lennon – and has several major train stations. Manchester and Blackpool also operate local tram services. The West Coast Main Line and the M6 form the main north-south routes in the region, along with the M62. Virgin Trains has recently cut journey times between London and Manchester with new tilting trains. However, despite all this, there is still a high level of congestion in the area, particularly on the roads.
Culture is the current buzzword in the North West, and not just because Liverpool has won European Capital of Culture status for 2008. However, this is expected to create 14,000 new jobs, attract an extra 1.7 million tourists and encourage £2bn worth of investment. The North West is home to a huge range of arts, heritage and culture, with entertainment to match any area of the UK.
Figures from the Land Registry show that property prices increased in the last quarter, with the average cost of a home rising to £132,015. The average price of a detached house is £253,376 compared to £141,306 for a semi-detached property. The average price for a flat in the region is £128,131 while a terraced house is £88,941.
Company view – Warren Partners
Based: Northwich, Cheshire
Mike Petty, a director at recruitment firm Warren Partners, hires many HR professionals each year. He says the region is the ideal place to start a career in people management.
“I’ve worked in the Midlands, Yorkshire and London, but the North West is now a vibrant and growing region. It’s exciting to be here at the moment because the area is changing so quickly.”
Petty has worked in the region for the past two years, but has been impressed by the forward-looking firms and individuals he has encountered.
“A huge number of firms are growing due to excellent working practices and good management. There always seems to be an eye to the future,” he adds.
He cites securing and retaining talented staff as the top HR issues for employers, while many practitioners are now focusing on aligning people management to the overall business objectives.
“The North West remains good value for money in terms of living costs and the big firms now dominate the region drawing people to the area,” Petty says.
He is quick to recommend the area but jokes that many of his former colleagues in the South see a trip to the North West as a voyage of epic proportions, despite its relative ease. “Some people down South seem to think the North is the end of the earth,” Petty says.
Move here for…
A buoyant market is helping to attract some of the world’s biggest companies
The region’s reputation is on the rise, but it is still cheaper than the South
Manchester has long been resurgent and Liverpool is set to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008
But beware of…
Can be slow moving across the region
Even lifelong residents complain
More than 1,000 new businesses were attracted to the region last year alone
HR contacts and local information
Northwest Development Agency: www.nwda.co.uk
Liverpool 08: www.liverpool08.com
CIPD Manchester branch: www.cipd.co.uk/branch/manchester
CIPD Merseyside, North Cheshire and North Wales branch: www.cipd.co.uk/branch/merseyside
CIPD Lancashire branch: www.cipd.co.uk/branch/lancashire
CIPD Cumbria branch: www.cipd.co.uk/branch/cumbria
Regional information: www.englandsnorthwest.com