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Agenda: Let’s pull together


Back in 1981 then Conservative Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit famously told jobless northerners to “get on your bike” and find work in the south. It's a move that won him few friends in the north and since those dark days many of the cities he referred to have seen a resurgence. So why then, 27 years on, is a think tank with Tory connections echoing Tebbit's comments? Northerner Gemma Middleton wonders whether a shift south really is the fast track to skills and success.

On Wednesday 13 August, think-tank Policy Exchange – noted for helping Conservative Leader David Cameron create some of his party's policies - published a report that caused public outcry when it branded northern cities such as Liverpool, Sunderland and Bradford "beyond revival". Residents of the cities, the report recommended, should move south. The best way to describe the general consensus of opinion towards this report is one of sheer disbelief. This was pointedly demonstrated by David Cameron personally condemning the report as 'barmy'; which in actual fact is what the writer said some people would judge it as.

Photo of Gemma Middleton"Cities are a lot like companies, each experience peaks and toughs and so both need to adapt to survive."

Debate over the north-south divide is nothing new and while either side may gripe at each other, few would recommend a mass exodus towards London, Cambridge and Oxford. The north and south are commonly recognised for different reasons; London is one of the world's largest financial skills capitals, while the north has traditionally had its roots in industry.

London, with its finance roots, has prospered, the north has been hit by worldwide competition, which has pushed the UK’s focus from industry to the service sector, because of the inability to compete successfully on price. Our industrial heartland faces th tough challenge of re-skilling.

The government and organisations alike have had time and forewarning about the need to increase the skills level of the whole of England, with a specific emphasis on the north, which was also highlighted in last year's Leitch review.

One of the key government initiatives has focused on increasing the number of young people entering higher education and during the last school year, there was a record breaking 827,737 A-level entries from over 60,000 students.

The academic reputation of northern people regarding qualifications, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, is typically a lot lower compared with their southern counterparts. For example, this year's A-Level breakdown below shows an almost 10% difference in the proportion of students getting the top A grade at A-level between the south east (29.1%) and the north east (19.1%).

Traditionally, the skills needed in the north were different to that of the south as the majority of work often centered around industrial roles, however due to the shift towards the service sector ensuring that young people are gaining qualifications such as A-levels that will help them gain entry into these new jobs is paramount.

While investing in encouraging young people to stay in education is helping, many organisations are using business training to bridge the gap. Whether the training is in conjunction with government schemes such as Train to Gain or if implemented independently, both have the same result; rejuvenating the workforce, which is precisely the action needed to help bring the north back to its best.

Cities are a lot like companies, each experience peaks and toughs and so both need to adapt to survive. The north boasts this year's European capital of culture – Liverpool - numerous top learning institutions, some of our best sporting facilities and I don't have space here to list the great Brits with their roots in the north.

As the Beijing Olympics has shown, Great Britain is full of great people, pulling together is the only way forward, not shutting down.

Gemma Middleton is a communications specialist
at Righttrack Consultancy. For more information about Righttrack go to:

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not of


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