More than 200 years ago the North of England was the birthplace of the original Industrial Revolution.
The dramatic shift to adopt new manufacturing processes was spearheaded by the textiles industry in the North West, ship building in the North East, which reached every corner of the globe and steelmaking giving Sheffield a worldwide reputation.
The transformational effect a world-class industry can have on the north was demonstrated during that original Industrial Revolution, as industrial cities saw their population grow tenfold, attracted by the jobs of the future and new emerging specialist industries.
It was also this revolution that led Siemens to set up shop in the UK over 170 years ago. Especially because the north became a magnet for innovation – a global beacon of trade – which it must and can do again through the power of new digital technology.
This month I will be speaking at a number of leading forums to champion the North’s future technology potential – including a speech this week at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre together with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. I will also be speaking about the importance of our brilliant women entrepreneurs in the North and better innovation through embracing more diversity at the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) conference in Manchester today. I am also looking forward to opening the Financial Times Northern Summit on May 24th.
At each of these my message will be simple – the north can create and lead a new 21st century industrial revolution and in doing so can be at the forefront of brand new industries and brand new companies.
There is no reason why the next tech pioneer, the next Spotify or WhatsApp or industrial Artificial Intelligence leader cannot be created in Sheffield, Leeds, Sunderland or anywhere else in our great region.
At Siemens, we’re so confident about this, that we will be opening our second digital university innovation lab at Newcastle University on 14th of May. It will be tasked with accelerating regional digitalisation, boosting digital skills for graduates – promoting technology and knowledge exchange to meet the needs of an increasingly digitalised society.
Many have asked why I am so personally passionate about investing in the north – especially after our recent announcement that we hope to make a second major investment in East Yorkshire, with our proposed train factory in Goole. The reason is simple – we cannot afford to let this wave of change pass the region by, as we allowed in the 70’s and 80’s.
And no one will do this for us, not least Westminster or Whitehall. It is leaders in business, education and local politics in the North that must drive this.
I spent my youth growing up in Leeds, as it struggled to cope with the effects of ‘de-industrialisation’, followed by a crippling recession in the early 80’s. Too many people were left ill-equipped to deal with the change in industry. So much potential and talent was lost, and the opportunities for a new generation were not created. This failure to adapt and modernise cost the north dearly, and the reason why this new digital industrial revolution is so important is that we must be determined to do a much better job this time around.
I have also been privileged to lead a piece of work as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy looking at how we can win back our winning streak in this new Industrial Revolution. We have called this new movement ‘Made Smarter’ and you can read more about it here
The unique characteristics of the Northern Powerhouse mean that this region can and must lead this new ‘Made Smarter’ Industrial Revolution. A region of 15 million people, working together across traditional rivalries and boundaries in some of the most vibrant, productive and diverse cities, towns and communities in the UK.
So my call to action is for you to spread the word about how much potential our region has in this new digital industrial revolution, and carry this message beyond the business world and into our communities.
This is our chance, your chance to create your own Industrial Revolution – underpinned by digital technology, making things again, but much smarter and creating long lasting social value for the north of England.