England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance, Welfare and equalities

Viewpoint: A north powered and shaped by all our fantastic people


Image courtesy Wigan

The Northern Powerhouse is an amazing concept, writes Donna Hall, Chief Executive of Wigan Council. It’s up to us who live and work in the north to shape it to make sure we grow our business base, our housing supply, improve our transport connectivity and upskill our residents to enable them to take advantage of the new jobs we are creating.

But it isn’t just about traditional growth; it’s also about our amazing people and a new type of growth which includes communities and individuals who exist on the margins of the powerhouse. Making sure we leave nobody behind is entirely down to us as public service leaders. It’s definitely not the government’s or civil servants’ job.

Helen Pidd, North of England Correspondent for The Guardian, the fabulous Jo Miller, President of SOLACE and CE at Doncaster and I have stood up against the exclusively all white male panel at the recent privately-organised Northern Powerhouse conference. The organisers, who were charging £450 per head for us all to listen to pearls of wisdom from the blokes, have subsequently apologised and said this will not happen again. About time!

The gender pay gap is increasing every year with most six-year-old girls thinking boys are better than them even though they learn to walk faster, pass more exams and achieve higher grades. In Wigan we have developed a powerful Believe in Her campaign to address the lack of positive role models and confidence suffered by many woman and girls and in Manchester there is Strong MCR Women and Diva Manc. All are aiming to shift the insidious conspiracy of ingrained societal sexism.

We have had an unbelievable amount of support on the issue from men and women across all sectors and across the UK. Simone Roche the founder of Northern Powerwomen, which celebrates inspiring private and public sector female and male role models who promote gender diversity was finally invited to address the conference. Ironically when her badge arrived through the post her name had been changed to SIMON. Clearly more Simons than Simones attend the event…

Getting annoyed is reasonable under the circumstances. But it’s much better to get even and remain positive. So we are arranging an alternative event on 9th May at Doncaster Rovers (who have kindly given us their stadium for free).

We will use this Peoples Powerhouse event as an opportunity to address key issues such as early help, asset-based approaches to working with residents, homelessness, digital inclusion, health and social care, developing skills for the future and ensuring good growth occurs across the whole of the north.

So what started as “sisters roaring” at the injustice of a pale, male and stale line-up, has turned into a genuine social movement for change and has sparked our creativity. Diversity became the theme of the event and we will turn this reaction into a force for good for all of our people across the north and beyond. If we hold back half of the north’s people we hold back all of it.

Donna Hall, CBE, CE Wigan Council and Northern Powerwomen Transformational Leader 2016.