Eastern Powerhouse to Boost Investments in Eastern Region
06:00 March 9, 2022
The region’s untapped potential – and the opportunities to unlock economic growth – must be harnessed through the creation of a new Eastern Powerhouse.
The business-led organization hopes to emulate the success of the North and Midlands by attracting government investment and attention through the Leveling Up scheme.
It aims to highlight the merits of investing in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Greater Peterborough, Lincolnshire and North Essex and present a unified voice to push for investment.
More than 100 business and civic leaders, as well as more than 20 political supporters will join the launch of the initiative in Westminster next Tuesday (March 15).
Organizations such as Lotus, Adnams and Hill Group support the creation of the powerhouse, which will be governed by an advisory board made up of members from the public and private sectors, as well as MPs.
It is chaired by James Palmer, former mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, who said it was a chance for the East to advocate for realizing its full potential.
He said: “We have a region of over six million people, with some of the best universities in the world and we are the fourth largest supplier to the country’s economy.
“The devolved nations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have smaller populations than the Eastern Region.
“And you have the Northern Powerhouse which has had a huge effect there, as has the Midlands Engine.
“Yet the East has always struggled to deliver a unified voice, but we are greater than the sum of our parts.”
Mr Palmer said the Eastern Powerhouse would advocate for investment in the region – to boost economic growth, improve transport and infrastructure, increase skills and attract businesses.
He said: “In the last budget, the North was mentioned 18 times and the East was not mentioned at all.”
Mr. Palmer said: “We know that we are leaders in innovation, technology, renewable energy, life sciences, agriculture and agri-tech.
“It’s not just about telling the government we want the money, it’s about telling the industry we’re worth investing in.”
Mr Palmer said a united voice and spatial vision of the region was urgently needed to get this message across.
Does Norfolk need a mayor?
The government has invited Norfolk County Council to seek what is known as a county agreement – which would see certain powers devolved to Norfolk.
Debate is ongoing over whether this would involve an elected mayor for the county – although the government has made it clear that the best financial package will be made available to regions that decide to opt for a mayor.
So would the Eastern Powerhouse’s case be strengthened if Norfolk had a mayor?
Mr Palmer said it was a matter for elected members and stressed that the Eastern Powerhouse would not set policy.
He said: “It’s not our job to set policy. We’re a business-led coalition of people who say the East is a great place for new businesses and a great place to live. “
The Eastern Powerhouse is a concept that has been talked about for many years, in one form or another.
The eyes of the East have long looked enviously at the money – and powers – directed to areas such as the North and the Midlands.
It is very difficult to separate the success of these areas in getting government money from these “powerful” role models and elected mayors in these places.
The Eastern Powerhouse – and its chairman, James Palmer, a former elected mayor – is trying to make that differentiation.
He says it will be business-led, advocating for investment in the region, bringing a united voice for an area stretching from Lincolnshire to Essex, via Norfolk and Suffolk.
It’s a vast area that doesn’t always identify as a single entity – as shown by the refusal of some Norfolk councils to accept the idea of a Norfolk and Suffolk mayor in 2016.
But the East is a huge region, with enormous potential. And we have, historically, missed something, so now might be a good time to make the point that we have so much to offer – and benefit from.