The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is the name given to the recent public policy initiatives and investment led by the UK government to re-balance economies and stimulate growth in the North of England by locally devolving power. This exploratory paper presents and critiques the Northern Powerhouse concept from a Cultural Policy Studies perspective. Based on interviews with two key regional policy stakeholders from Leeds and Manchester, the paper illuminates the cities’ contrasting approaches to the Northern Powerhouse. In so doing, it establishes the terms of reference for a robust scholarly critique of policy, rhetoric and decision-making regarding the Northern Powerhouse.
Supporting the findings of previous studies into cultural funding, the paper argues that the early initiatives funded by the Northern Powerhouse are essentially personality-led, focussing on expensive flagship arts buildings and responding to the agendas of charismatic cultural leaders. By reflecting on alternative policy approaches, the paper considers the implications of the case study for regional cultural policymaking worldwide and concludes by assessing the significance of devolution and rebalancing of funding to cultural democracy.