Citizens’ assembly could put people at the heart of Northern Powerhouse, report says

A citizens’ assembly made up of 252 individuals focusing on issues specifically in the north could put people at the heart of Northern Powerhouse plans moving forward, according to a new report.

‘Putting the People in the Powerhouse’ produced in association with IPPR North, feedbacks on the first ever People’s Powerhouse conference, held in Doncaster, in July. During the day a range of speakers gave their thoughts on the Northern Powerhouse, while a series of 18 panel sessions were held aimed at shining a light on how people were flourishing in the north and supporting its future growth. The report was launched at the House of Lords and hosted by Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, where he raised concerns about the north’s economy and sometimes the lack of focus and dialogue referring to the north of England.

In reference to citizen assemblies in Canada and Ireland, stakeholders believe a similar setup could provide a platform for people to be more involved in the democratic process. The purpose for members who would serve for a full year on two assemblies would be to identify and discuss the main issues for people living and working in the north, evaluating the policies and programmes of central government/councils and to develop proposals to enhance the quality of life.

At the event in July, Adebowale called for a “people’s revolution” across the north to transform towns, cities and communities across the region. Commenting on the report, he said: “As chief executive of the social enterprise Turning Point, I see on a daily basis the important work Turning Point’s teams do to support people with complex needs, mental health and substance misuse issues, and those with a learning disability –  and it’s important that we include all people and their families and communities whose voices need to be listened to. We cannot allow anyone to be left behind. Investment in the north must be inclusive and must be used to support communities as well as businesses, adding value to the lives of real people. The People’s Powerhouse supports a vision where people and communities are at the centre of economic investment in the north of England.”

A key message in the report outlines five “pillars of change”, which look to ensure a “more inclusive north” which works for everyone. These pillars include: 

  • A more inclusive North where our diverse voices and strengths are represented
  • A good economy that works for more people
  • Devolution that genuinely includes local people
  • A focus on the value of all our places
  • More collaboration, sharing and learning together

The report also stresses how vital it is to focus on all places in the north and not just the big cities with many participating at the inaugural event revealing how discussions about the Northern Powerhouse were remote and irrelevant to them. Key people behind the People’s Powerhouse are therefore calling on the government and northern leaders to establish a taskforce to develop a more comprehensive ‘space and place strategy’.

Tracy Fishwick, project director and one of the founder members of the People’s Powerhouse, said: “I think with the People’s Powerhouse event in Doncaster earlier this year and now the publication of this report we are really starting to change the conversation around the Northern Powerhouse. We’re not saying transport and infrastructure aren’t important. But we are saying that economic growth doesn’t always trickle down and benefit everyone. We need a Powerhouse for all the North – not just the big cities, and one that improves life chances for people furthest from the labour market. As Andy Burnham said at our Doncaster event – it’s time to open the doors to the Powerhouse and let the people in.”

Moving forward, the people’s powerhouse is striving to ensure dialogue about the north is consistent and acted upon. The report identifies the importance of future local and national events to keep the northern debate in the public eye. It states how these organised events like the one in July will provide the perfect opportunity to showcase how an inclusive north looks with evidence-based work and research.

If you would like to contact Ryan Tute about this, or any other story, please email