By Daniel Hunter

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is calling for greater efforts to rebalance the economy away from London and the South East to ensure the vision of a prosperous Northern Powerhouse becomes a reality.

A series of policy events are being organised by the FSB in the North of England to find out what Northern businesses need to grow and increase productivity - steps which are key to boosting the region’s economic potential.

Lord O’Neill, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, whose portfolio includes driving forward plans on the Northern Powerhouse, said: “Building the Northern Powerhouse is vital to the government’s plans to rebalance the economy and end the decades-old gap between the north and south. Businesses are at the heart of this work and that’s why we’re investing in infrastructure, science and skills across the north as well as devolving powers to local leaders.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the northern economy and I am very pleased the FSB is taking such a proactive role in making sure they are at the heart of the debate.”

John Allan, National Chairman for the FSB and Ambassador for the 2016 International Festival for Business, said: “Having visited much of the North of England in my role as IFB Ambassador, it is clear there is growing ambition and opportunity.

“As the Northern Powerhouse concept takes shape, the FSB wants to make sure small businesses in the North of England are at the heart of the debate and given the support and backing they need by local and national government to grow and invest.”

The FSB is holding a roundtable event in Greater Manchester on Tuesday 14 July titled, ‘The Northern Powerhouse: how do we help small businesses fulfil their potential?’ Another roundtable will be held in the North East in September.

Mike Cherry, Policy Director for the FSB, added: “The North/South divide has long been a stumbling block for the UK economy, and so we strongly welcome the Government’s focus on building a Northern Powerhouse.

“Realising this vision will require increased investment and infrastructure spending in the North of England to boost regional growth, nurture a thriving business sector and get much needed transport connection improvements back on track.

“Greater Manchester gained a cascade of devolved powers in the Queen’s Speech this year, when these begin Greater Manchester will be the test bed for regional devolution. If successful, this could be the blueprint for the rest of England.

“We look forward to working closely with local leaders and businesses in Greater Manchester and across the North of England to build a Northern Powerhouse that has the potential to generate lasting economic returns for the North.”

FSB key recommendations to deliver a strong Northern Powerhouse are:

- The heavily relied-upon UK road network must be upgraded. A new tunnelled trans-Pennine road route would be particularly beneficial.

- More details on HS3 should be made available. Delays to the electrification of key Northern rail routes are of particular concern, and will hold back regional growth if left unaddressed.

- A Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband should be introduced and set at 10Mbps. Small businesses should be explicitly included within the USO.

- Improve how Local Enterprise Partnerships in England engage with their small business communities to promote growth and jobs. This would include a short assessment of performance to date, improvements required and direction of travel going forwards.

- Improve access to finance through by improving credit data sharing, considering initiatives such as credit ‘passports’, and ensuring there is equal access to the payment system by all market participants.

- Support regional airports in the North as part of a wider transport strategy. The Government should also act as a priority to implement the recommendations from the Airports Commission report to expand Heathrow swiftly.

- Promote the delivery and benefits of vocational education and encourage more firms to identify and invest in staff training opportunities.