Published on in Public SectorNews

Do you know where ‘the North’ is?

A recent study from the University of Liverpool suggests it begins in Leicestershire, although others see it starting in Cheshire, the Watford gap, or even just Watford itself.

But while there’s some confusion over its location, there’s no confusion about its importance. Key cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle are vital centres of cultural and economic power.

In 2015 a new government position – the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse – was created to reflect the growing cultural and economic importance of the North.

The current minister Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, is leading a project to boost economic growth in the North by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture. It’s hoped this will help redress the balance between London and Britain’s regional cities, and help intensify the impact of the North on the UK economy.

Here is why we’re excited to be part of this project through our new partnership with the Northern Powerhouse.

We already have strong links in the North

As a global organisation we have a significant presence across the North of England, with offices and infrastructure in Warrington, Crewe and Manchester.

Our Warrington location, for example, acts as our headquarters for logistics. Situated strategically in the centre of the UK, its position next to major motorway networks and regional airports is central to our business efficiency. Warrington is also where Fujitsu has chosen to host its Cyber Security Network Operating Centre, where the local pool of talent helps protect customers in the UK and abroad against cyber threats.

The Manchester office is home to our Virtual Machine Environment centre of excellence. It’s also the place where Children in Need run their call centre during their annual campaign. Spaces to work on the call centre for the evening are opened up to Fujitsu staff and are always very quickly taken up (usually within hours). For me, this is a real testament to the type of people who work out of the Manchester campus and northern sites nearby.

Having centres throughout the North means we understand the region and its potential for driving investment and creating jobs – something especially important in the face of Brexit and today’s climate of economic uncertainty.

With a 15 million-strong population, 23 universities and roughly 16% of the nation’s jobs, the North accounts for 13.3% of the UK’s Gross Value Added. This figure could be increased with the right infrastructure and resources, which the Northern Powerhouse is looking to attain.

We’re helping the UK become better connected

Transport is central to Northern Powerhouse’s plans to meet the needs of people and businesses through enhanced connectivity.

Strong transport networks enable the citizens of the north to travel about quickly and easily, stimulating job creation and empowering business to thrive. The government shares this belief, having committed to investing a record £13 billion on Transport for the North.

Connecting different places within the North is the main focus for the new investment. It’s actually the core idea behind the powerhouse, which was formed to be “not one city, but a collection of northern cities, sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world” according to the government’s original 2015 plans.

Considering that 92% of people who work in the Northern Powerhouse also live within it, it makes sense to improve the commuter rail network across the region.

We’ve already made a start on this. Fujitsu has been working with transport operating companies in the North for quite some time. We work with all the northern TOCs, 4 out of 6 of the northern smart card schemes and 3 out of 5 main bus operators also use our technology.

However, train and bus travel is not the only form of transport anticipating a boost through the Northern Powerhouse: there are plans for major road re-development, including a new Sheffield Innovation Corridor, alongside Sheffield Supertram renewals and improvement of the Manchester Metrolink to the airport.

We’re also trying to make things better for our very own northern commuters – the Fujitsu staff who work in our northern offices and travel in daily.

In 2017 the Manchester campus at Fujitsu won a Silver Award under the Travel Choices Scheme. This programme is run by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to help employers encourage their workers to travel sustainably.

As part of Fujitsu’s approach as a responsible business, we designed a travel plan that incorporated initiatives like cycle to work days; promotion of the Bike2Work scheme; building locker room and shower facilities for cyclists, runners and walkers; setting up the I-cycle community and creating a store of spare bike equipment, like pumps and locks.

Since we started working towards the accreditation, 27% of employees have changed their mode of transport to walking, running, cycling or using the public transport network.

We share values with the Northern Powerhouse

The Northern Powerhouse is a natural partner for Fujitsu since we both share an interest in developing innovation.

The Powerhouse has invested £235 million into the Sir Henry Royce Institute, alongside further investment in the National Institute for Smart Data Innovation in Newcastle and in technology incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

Many of the 24 innovation hubs in our ambassador programme are located in the North, and we have also supported a team of students from the Lancaster University, one of whom went on to  win a prize at the prestigious cyber security competition from the Inter-Ace cyber security challenge.

Fujitsu and the Northern Powerhouse are also brought together by the opportunities that exist for local government in the North.

After 40 years working in government, Fujitsu has unrivalled expertise in the sector, as it undergoes a new process of devolution with power being transferred from Westminster to local mayors and councils.

Employees in the public services sector have already benefitted from improved technology. Those in government selected technological development as the most positive socioeconomic factor affecting their productivity, according to Technology in a Transforming Britain. And this is a trend we hope to progress.

Part of this is enabled by the world-class connectivity that we have in the region. We have over 6000km of fibre optic with internet exchange points located in Leeds and Manchester.

We’re looking forward to a bright future

The North of England has a rich heritage as a place of industrial and technological innovation. And now the Northern Powerhouse is ensuring that its future looks to be as bright as its past. As a responsible business Fujitsu is excited to join the Northern Powerhouse and work with the government to co-create solutions to support the initiatives of the project.

It’s a region that’s helped drive our business forward. Now it’s set to drive the UK forward too.

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