Northern Powerhouse champion returns to the University of Sheffield

Commercial Secretary to the Treasury Lord Jim O’Neill returned to Sheffield on Wednesday 24 February 2016 to deliver the 11th Roberts Lecture ahead of the Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester.

An alumnus of the University, Lord O’Neill gave a strong vision of the future of the north and the ‘Man-Shef-Leeds-Pool’ region working together to rival the major economic cities of the world. He also spoke of how young people and their aspirations are the key to the success of the Northern Powerhouse.

Speaking on this topic, he said:

"What can be done to encourage a greater retention of the brightest people to stay where they were educated, but also how can you attract them as regional immigrants to come?"

He referenced the University of Sheffield’s excellent facilities at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) and how a focus for the government should be to encourage ‘regional immigrants’ to the north to make value-added manufacturing a success.

Sheffield was the one of the first city regions to agree a devolution deal which took place at the AMRC on 2 October 2015. At the time George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer hailed the “incredible” AMRC for symbolising the economic potential of the north and said:

“Sheffield is forging ahead in the Northern Powerhouse, which this historic deal proves is taking shape.”

Lord O’Neill spoke about the deal and congratulated Sheffield’s local leaders who were in attendance for their ambition and boldness. He said the idea was to empower local leaders who have the knowledge to solve regional problems.

Improved transport links is a key part of the vision of the Northern Powerhouse and Lord O’Neill compared the relative distances between the ‘Man-Shef-Leeds-Pool’ cities with the distances of the London Underground. He pointed out that mobility across London had increased by 20 per cent after the introduction of the Oyster Card and a similar system could help the north.

Lord O’Neill said:

“If we want to truly explore the agglomeration benefits for consumers and producers, we have to make sure the transport system can get people around more efficiently and more cost effectively than ever before."

Earning BA and MA degrees in economics from the University of Sheffield, Lord O’Neill went on to become Chief Economist for Goldman Sachs. Until October 2014, Lord O’Neill chaired the highly influential Cities Growth Commission. He became a life Peer in May 2015, and was appointed Commercial Secretary to the Treasury in the same month, with policy responsibility for the Northern powerhouse and city devolution. Lord O’Neill earned BA and MA degrees in economics from the University in 1978 and 1980, along with an Hon LittD in 2014.

Read more about Lord O'Neill in an interview from our 2015/16 alumni magazine.

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