Levelling Up the North West: a roundtable with mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram

We are now at a critical moment for levelling up, said Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham at a roundtable event yesterday. As the world recovers from Covid and looks to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, these challenges also present an opportunity to create a fairer, greener economy.

The Higher Education Commission held a roundtable to discuss in particular how universities can contribute to levelling up, with participants:

  • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
  • Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region
  • Rachel Woolley, Director of Research & Enterprise, University of Salford
  • Professor Richard Jones, Vice-President for Regional Innovation & Civic Engagement, University of Manchester
  • Steven Heales, Head of Innovation & Science Commercialisation, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
  • Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership
  • Professor Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive, Health Innovation Manchester
  • Charlotte Morris, Corporate & Regional Affairs Manager, University of Salford
  • James Coe, Head of Sustainability, Policy & Civic Engagement, University of Liverpool
  • Ellie Fielding, Policy Manager, Liverpool Civic Data Cooperative
  • Colin Sinclair, CEO of the Knowledge Quarter Liverpool
  • Natascha Engel, CEO of Policy Connect and former MP and deputy speaker
  • Daniel Monaghan, Senior Researcher, Policy Connect

Participants agreed that at the heart of levelling up is people. Developing people through skills plans, ensuring wide access to education and employment, and creating opportunities and career paths to retain talent in the North West will all be vital.

Another agreed fundamental of levelling up is collaboration. The Greater Manchester Civic University Agreement was cited as a good example of this collaboration, but participants agreed that universities could do more to ‘be good neighbours to their local communities’, to borrow wording from James Coe and Ellie Fielding at the event.

The contribution that universities could make split into three strands:

  1. Innovation and business. By working with SMEs and creating their own spin-out companies, universities can then attract larger companies and significant investment to the region.
  2. Skills building. Teaching is a huge part of what universities contribute, and Charlotte Morris from the University of Salford highlighted the important role of universities in training the future workforce and moulding the citizens of the future.
  3. Policymaking. Andy Burnham pointed to the example of Greater Manchester’s 2038 net zero target, which is a science-based target set by working in collaboration with academics from local universities, as an example of how universities can contribute to excellent policymaking in their regions.

The event ended on a positive note. This is a time of great opportunity; the question is now how to leverage policy, join the dots and create a greener, fairer society for everyone.