Following on from George Osborne’s recent budget announcements, we spoke to Christian Spence, Head of Research & Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce on the impact this will have for the north of England.

Hi Christian, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. The budget released by Chancellor George Osborne has highlighted a number of key projects around the region, what do you think will be the overall impact of this update?

The overall impact will undoubtedly be positive, but we must seek to manage expectations in that the start of some of these projects, never mind the benefits, will be some way off. We continue to call on government to ensure that projects can start and progress quickly, and that some shorter-term wins are important to maintain wider public confidence in the project as a whole.

There is a significant focus on improving infrastructure, particularly transport links between major cities, what opportunities will this give to companies operating within the north of England?

The key reason behind the powerhouse concept is agglomeration – the benefits of bringing a large number of high-skilled people closer together. The North’s four large cities, centred on Manchester, collectively have a population larger than that of Greater London, but they cannot move around, either by commuting, business travel, freight or leisure, as easily or efficiently as the population of London. This is the potential win here: a population of around 10 million, able to live in one city-region but with the the option of working in any of the others.

There appears to be a growing trend towards mega-projects such as HS3 and the M62 expansion, what, if any, opportunities exist for SMEs to get involved in these schemes?

Schemes of this nature will naturally see larger companies bidding for the very large value contracts. Government has a commitment that an increasing share of public spend should be done with SMEs and we expect to see the clients, such as Transport for the North, ensure that frameworks and contracts are delivered in such a way that smaller companies can get involved, too.

The Chamber will be represented in a discussion on Financing Construction SMEs at North England Build. Does more need to be done to support small businesses to facilitate involvement in construction projects across the region?

Undoubtedly: SMEs are the backbone of our economy, and we need to support them much more strongly to get them in a position to tender for larger-scale schemes. Reforms to procurement frameworks can certainly help, but we mustn’t underestimate the help and guidance that some SMEs will need to get themselves fully involved in these large opportunities.

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