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Universities see economic hope in growing, ageing and more diverse north

Eight of the regions’ academic powerhouses have got together as ‘the N8′. Their first research, published today, looks at the north in 25 years’ time.

Eight northern universities publish a report today, Thursday 15 September, examining how the regions’ changing population can best be exploited economically over the next 25 years.

There are likely to be between 1,123,000 and 1,821,000 more of us in 2036 than the current 15,117,000 according to the group, which ambitiously (and why not?) calls itself the N8.

The makeup will be different too – older and more ethnically diverse. If current patterns of age and work hold, which is by no means certain as more people postpone retirement, there would be some four percent fewer of us working, down to 6,764,000.

But there will probably be more for us to do. The universities forecast more ‘silver entrepreneurs’, ie people such as 61-year-old me deciding to set up businesses of our own. They foresee a bigger market for health and medical equipment and care and a building boom, as homes are adapted or built for the larger but older population.

Soberingly, the number of northerners with long-term ill health which curbs their activities in one way or another is predicted to rise from 3,268,000 now to 4,163,000 in 2036.

The report coincides with the start of business for Local Enterprise Partnerships, the best the coalition government has come up with to replace the much-missed regional development agencies, the NWDA, One North East and Yorkshire Forward. David Willetts, minister for universities and science, will be at the launch in Sheffield town hall this morning.

On the plus side, the team – Durham university, Lancaster university, Leeds university, Liverpool university, Manchester university, Newcastle university, Sheffield university and York university – highlight:

The creation of small and medium enterprises from an increasingly active and entrepreneurial older population;
The market provided by affluent older people;
New businesses, research and innovation in areas like health technologies, aids to living and care services;
Opportunities to adapt existing homes and design and build new homes to accommodate a growing number of smaller households;
The contribution of younger ethnic minority and migrant workers to maintaining the age balance of the population as the wider population ages rapidly.

Problems or challenges include:

Keeping more workers in the labour market for longer, by delaying retirement, update skills and maintain flexibility.
Making sure that health and care provision adapts to support an increasingly older population, with more people wanting to live at home in their older age.
Demand for a larger number of homes for smaller households;
Planning local communities, transport and services to respond to the needs of more elderly and minority communities.

Professor Ray Hudson, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Durham University, who led the research says:

The work that the team has produced tells a compelling story about the importance of understanding and addressing the changing structure of the population in the North’s key economic centres. The research does not support apocalyptic visions of a demographic time bomb, but it does show clearly how our population is changing and that there are important economic implications – both opportunities and challenges.
Most northern City-regions’ populations are growing, ageing and becoming more diverse, but the patterns of change vary between places. We need to look at these patterns carefully, grasp the opportunities and address the challenges. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds