Northern businesses must seize upon the levelling up agenda

By Connor Sadler

During the height of the Brexit negotiations there were media reports on an almost daily basis quoting the European Research Group on the tussle between London and Brussels over trade arrangements. In the post-Brexit era, another research group is slowly rising to prominence - the Northern Research Group (NRG).

Chaired by Jake Berry MP, the former Northern Powerhouse Minister, the NRG comprises over fifty Conservative backbenchers including former cabinet ministers such as Esther McVey, and MPs from the new 2019 intake such as Dehenna Davison, MP for Bishop Auckland. The size of the total membership remains secret however, with some NRG members reportedly currently serving in government.

So, what does this mean for business? It can often be difficult to enact policy change and gain key policymakers' attention at the best of times, particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination rollout. However, business leaders across the North of England would be wise to regularly engage with the NRG membership. The Johnson administration is committed to the "levelling up" agenda and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, as the MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, will likely be sympathetic, or at least well aware, of many of the concerns businesses and MPs from across the north are raising with both the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Government.

Furthermore, once the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is complete, the government will focus wholeheartedly on the speeding-up the UK's economic recovery. There have been many reports that areas of the north have been hit harder than other regions due to sustained lockdown restrictions. Voters across the region, and the country, will want to see an expedited recovery. However, the Prime Minister is well aware that he must quickly reward voters in the "Red Wall" who switched their allegiances and votes to the Conservative party in the 2019 general election. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this task harder. Yet ‘good politics’ is often the driver of government decision-making meaning that the priorities of the north, both metropolitan and rural, could and most likely will be focused upon by HMG in a manner not seen in decades, if ever.

Alongside more traditional public affairs strategies, businesses in the north should welcome the Northern Research Group's formation and seek to ensure key members of this group hear their concerns. The European Research Group was vocal and influential during the Brexit negotiations. Additionally, the newly formed China Research Group is piling pressure on the government, with Tory backbenchers seeming to hold significantly harder views on China than "Sinophile" Prime Minister Johnson. If the Northern Research Group can exert similar pressure to that expressed by the ERG during the Brexit debate, then business would be well served to actively engage with this increasingly high profile and potentially influential block of the Conservative party.

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