Earlier this year, our City Links report found that smaller northern towns and cities need to improve their transport and economic links with larger cities like Greater Manchester and Leeds.
Yesterday, we teamed up with the LSE's new Spatial Economics Research Centre to discuss why some regions and cities do well - and others don't. The event included SERC's director Henry Overman, Northern Way director Andrew Lewis, and our own Malcolm Cooper. If you were there too, thanks for coming along.
The discussion included ideas on how cities and towns like Burnley might bounce back from failed transport investment bids, like the Skipton-East Lancs rail link - and their overall prospects in an increasingly tough economic climate. The difficult truth for cities like Burnley is that transport investment decisions need first of all to prioritise access into and around large urban economies e.g. Greater Manchester. And they probably also need to make a stronger case for their bids to be accepted by the Department for Transport.
Attendees also talked about inward investment strategies. Manchester did well recently to attract Bank of New York, and other cities like Sunderland have attracted the likes of Nissan. But how can other cities attract high-value businesses? That's a big question, and one we'll be looking at.
Here's the main point from yesterday's debate: the North needs to be better networked. That means cities like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield need to link up better - and also connect more effectively with smaller places like Burnley. But it's not just about transport - skills are also important. For example, transport links need to be improved - but residents looking for jobs in Manchester also need to acquire the skills that Manchester's employers are looking for.
There's a message here for Whitehall. If the Northern economy is to improve, individual departments like DfT, DWP and DIUS need to collaborate more closely together - and adopt a much stronger "place-based" approach to their policies and funding programmes. It's no good coming up with transport policies in isolation from worklessness and skills policies. All these things are tied up together. We believe that city-regions can do the necessary joining up much more effectively than Whitehall. Which is why we want to see more powers and delegated funding for Greater Manchester and the Leeds city-region.