How SMEs are making a home in the Northern Powerhouse

Craig Donnelly, director at Boxes2Move, discusses the Northern Powerhouse and how the government’s commitment to rebalancing the UK’s economy could make the North a more attractive prospect to small businesses.

Following last week’s Emergency Budget, it’s clear to see the Government is committed to its promise to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It’s been almost a year since the symbolic moment when George Osborne first stood in the centre of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry to announce his plans, and since then there’s been plenty of exciting talk of new horizons for Northern cities.

The policies put forth as part of the Northern Powerhouse project could bring a multitude of benefits for the North. With devolution strategies continue to take shape for Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, and more control is granted to the mayor of Manchester, early signs suggest that the Government is delivering on its promises to give more powers to local authorities in the North.

So what exactly does the North have to offer?

Ask anyone who’s already uprooted from London to the North and the first thing they’ll talk about is the dramatic drop in the cost of living. Whilst London may be the land of opportunity, you often have to make a sacrifice on living conditions and make a lengthy commute to work each morning in order to make ends meet. According to the Homelet rental index, the average monthly rent in London is £1,472, compared to £666 in the North West and £537 in the North East.

That said, Northern England is already becoming increasingly attractive to young business owners, who tend to have more breathing space to take the financial risk of kick-starting their dream.

Naturally, as the cost of living is substantially lower, they have a greater opportunity to pump funding into their own business. Research conducted by Aviva, found that 7 in 10 small business owners develop their company on a part-time basis, using their enterprise to supplement their income, with almost half wanting to make their business full-time in the long run.

>See also: Five common growing pains for small businesses

With an estimated 5.2 million SMEs in the UK, there’s plenty of competition for start-up owners to contend with, but residing in the North gives you the opportunity to cut personal expenses and fuel your business.

Breaking traditions

Once upon a time, each major Northern city was bound to one trade. Shipping once dominated Liverpool, textiles were the cornerstone of Manchester’s economy and Sheffield became known as the ‘Steel City’ thanks to its reputation for manufacturing metals, but the younger generation has brought forth a wealth of new skills that bring the North into a new era.

Recent graduates from highly acclaimed universities in the North, such as Lancaster (ranking 10th in the UK) and York (ranking 22nd) are staying in university towns and finding careers in their local areas. Whilst many young graduates jump ship to London, the trend is declining, with many graduates taking advantage of the North’s growing reputation as a technology hub.

Another clear example would be the creative industry, which has thrived in the North. Despite the arts often being the worst affected industry during a recession, design, gaming and advertising are all sectors that continue to thrive in the North.

A recent study undertaken by the Intergenerational Foundation showed that Manchester is the best place for graduates looking for new job opportunities, and the research also sang the praises of other Northern cities such as Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds. This is another clear indication that London is not the be-all and end-all for young professionals.

The great migration?

Will we see a mass migration of SMEs making the move from South to North in the coming years? It would be naive to suggest that London will soon be playing second fiddle, but we must remember that improving transport links will narrow the gap between major cities in the UK, which means SMEs will be able to benefit from the cheapness of the North while still having quick, easy access to the capital.

TransNorth rail is set to improve accessibility in the North, with smaller towns linking up with larger cities and faster routes being created between Leeds and Manchester. Not only could this lead to more passing trade through connected towns and cities, but it could also be a lifeline to commuters.

>Related: Some people ‘born to be employers’

Due to this, those struggling in the South may choose to move up North to the quieter bordering towns of great cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. Whilst this may seem like a great opportunity for the North to gain more skilled workers, some commentators have expressed concerns about the housing market being unable to cope with the influx of new residents.

House prices and the cost of living will inevitably rise if more people move up North. There’s plenty of talk surrounding the housing shortage across the UK at the moment, with only 118,760 houses being built in England last year and most completions being seen in the South and Midlands.

This has already been seen in Salford, when the BBC moved up from London. House prices in the local area rose substantially in the first two years of MediaCityUK opening its doors.

If the Government truly wants to create a Northern Powerhouse, and a breeding ground for the UK’s SMEs, much more support for our housing infrastructure is needed. So if you’re sitting on an idea that you want to transform into a business, perhaps now is the time to make your move northwards? If there is to be a great migration – a notion that will certainly trigger debate – it will pay to be at the head of the queue.

Further reading: What kind of entrepreneur are you?

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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