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8 February 2016 | By Rob Cotton Community

A "technical heartbeat" for the north

The Northern Powerhouse is not just about better transport links, the region needs to develop centres of world-class centres of excellence to attract and retain talent

I believe that in order for the Northern Powerhouse to be a success we must focus on four emerging areas and commit to becoming the world leader in each.

The Northern Powerhouse is vital to businesses in the north; however, it is not just about transport links. Don’t get me wrong, infrastructure is important but an immediate focus on people, skills and attracting talent will deliver results faster.

The north has some of the finest universities in the country, but a lot of graduates migrate south. It will be impossible, and probably quite undesirable, to reverse this trend completely but the flow must be stemmed.

To do this, we need some tightly defined world-class centres of global excellence that will inspire and retain talent. This in turn will lead to new businesses opening or moving to the north to support and take advantage of these growing pools of talent.

We, as business leaders in the north, should be lobbying government to fix the region’s focus and invest as it has done in other areas. Media City in Salford and Tech City in Shoreditch have been examples of inspirational transformation where the government’s focus and funding initiatives have resulted in an influx of businesses that have delivered real value. Unless we see more of this approach adopted here, the Northern Powerhouse will stand for an undefined transport debate.

We can expand on the success at Salford and become a world-class centre for media. We can build on the success of graphene, and excel in advanced materials. And I also believe we can build our expertise in advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, and cyber security.

Shoreditch without doubt has become the tech development centre of the UK and to try to replicate it is an unrealistic ambition. But channelling investment into narrowly defined, highly technical areas will see the creation of new products and services, and provide the north with the technical heartbeat it needs.

Led by technology company ARM, the attempts to mimic the human brain through technology will undoubtedly lead to a huge number of implications and applications from driverless cars to the Internet of Things. We should harness this area and become the world leading research and development area for artificial intelligence, in theory and in practice.

Elsewhere, cyber security is the fastest growing part of the IT sector and this will continue for many years as the inherently unsafe internet evolves. With that will come a global requirement for more advanced encryption and cryptography so that data can be stored in a secure manner. Given the work that Alan Turing did in encryption, it would be fitting to see his heritage continued in Manchester and the north, where he lived and worked.

NCC Group is committed to making the Northern Powerhouse a success; however, we need businesses and universities to work with government to put northern cities on the global map. As a fiercely proud Manchester company, we will continue to beat the drum for the north.