The North has to be the solution, not the problem. That is the clear message from one of the leading figures in the Northern Powerhouse and its continuing work to ensure that the Government follows through with its pledges to the region.
In a keynote address at the NP11 conference in Rotherham recently, Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the LEP and Chair of the NP11, called for the North to be front and centre of Government’s plans for UK competitiveness and prosperity beyond Brexit.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his continued commitment to the Northern Powerhouse project at the same conference. He pointed towards more devolution deals for the north, saying: “It is time that we gave more people a say over the places where they live, and it is time that we gave you the proper ability to run things your way.”
Mr Johnson said he was committed to a new Northern Powerhouse growth body to drive the region’s economy, with powers to bring together major organisations in the region. It is understood a chair would be appointed to head up the body, working closely with Jake Berry, the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse.
“We are going to maximise the power of the north. And we are going to make sure that it is people here who are in control over the things that matter to them.”
While those words will be welcomed by those who believe in the potential of the Northern Powerhouse project, many will want to see commitment in terms of actual policy and projects.
And in particular, they will want to see commitment to the full HS2 scheme s a cornerstone of the improved transport infrastructure many business leaders want to bring to the north, and bringing it into Leeds as planned would also open up the opportunity for the Northern Powerhouse rail scheme, creating a new station in Bradford offering much faster links to Leeds and Manchester
“The Prime Minister’s commitment to discuss interim devolution arrangements for the Leeds City Region is a step forward but we now need the Government’s actions to match his words so that we can quickly reach an agreement and accelerate our ambitions for transport, skills, tackling climate change and delivering growth which benefits all our communities.”
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council
She said any new body to promote growth across the Northern Powerhouse had to be led by the North, for the North and represent a significant shift of power and resources from Whitehall, complementing the work Transport for the North, NP11 and Combined Authorities are already doing to drive forward the Northern economy.
Mr Marsh agreed, saying: “We welcome Government’s commitment to a new Northern Powerhouse growth body. To ensure this will be wholly effective in placing our region front and centre of driving the UK’s post-Brexit growth, this must be a body that is truly of the north and for the north.
“As we have outlined today to Government, this new body’s first task must be to create and deliver upon a jointly agreed Northern Powerhouse Strategy – a Manifesto for the North which will set out clearly what the North is asking of its own people, as well as from Government to achieve its ambitions.”
Roger Marsh OBE expanded on this idea of a manifesto for the north in his keynote address to the conference.
“I’m sure I speak for many of you when I say it’s a no-brainer that the North should be front and centre of Government’s plans for UK competitiveness and prosperity beyond Brexit,” he said, pointing out the north’s towns, cities and rural areas are collectively home to nearly a quarter of the UK’s population and contribute over £300 billion a year to the UK economy. If the North were an independent nation, it would rank among the top 20 in the world, he added.
“We’ve seen major companies establish and strengthen their presence in the North – Siemens, the BBC, Nissan, BAE, GlaxoSmithKline, Channel 4 and of course McLaren Automotive here in Sheffield City Region, whose Executive Director Ruth Nic Aoidh I am very much looking forward to hearing from.
“That the North has a significant role to play in the UK’s future is therefore beyond question. Yet despite the clear economic opportunity the North represents, the North-South divide continues to widen, holding back our economy, our productivity and people’s opportunities.”Roger Marsh OBE,
He said it was essential those gaps were closed up, and a new
way of thinking was needed by Government, by northern leaders, and by business
to do that.
“For Government it means a radical new approach to how investment is allocated. Although market forces have played a part in the North’s changing fortunes over the past few decades, an imbalance in Government spending has exacerbated the issue,” he said.
“Despite recent welcome progress in some areas through devolution deals, public spending on the economy remains stubbornly skewed towards the Southeast. According to Treasury figures, Yorkshire for example has seen a 0.4% increase in spending over the past four years to £568 per head, compared with a 47% increase for the Greater Southeast to £901 per head,” he said.
“As northern leaders, we need to look to new ways of partnership working in pursuit of mutual benefits. International examples clearly highlight that the best conditions for productive growth based on knowledge and innovation are created through strong, empowered leadership and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
“Businesses meanwhile must recognise that future growth does not lie in low value strategies based on low wages and simple cost cutting. Those businesses that invest in higher value strategies based on innovation, exporting and skills development – supported by national and local government investment in transport, housing, and digital infrastructure – are the ones that will see the benefits in terms of higher profits, more loyal employees and greater resilience to changes in economic conditions.”
He said central to making this happen was “a coherent Northern Powerhouse strategy that sets out a clear vision for where we want the North to be and an ambitious action plan to achieve it”.
“This strategy should be designed and led by the North, working with Government, and must be long-term in its outlook – not just a collection of short-term initiatives. To be truly successful, the Northern Powerhouse must be a thread running throughout Government policy, not an idea that waxes and wanes according to political circumstances.
“In particular, the Treasury could be given an explicit objective to level up the economy. This would overhaul how we prioritise investment and would make this Government the first ever to make re-balancing a specific objective of the Treasury.
He said work by the LEP suggested Leeds City Region alone would need annual investment of £6 billion or £2,000 per head over the medium term to catch up to the Greater Southeast.
“After years of austerity many will balk at this figure, but we must be clear that if levelling up is really our goal, a step change is needed.”
He said partnerships between the public and private sectors across the North needed to be strengthened, learning from what works, being united in our calls for Northern priorities to be delivered while maintaining healthy competition between northern.
He stressed that “a modern, integrated transport network is fundamental to creating the conditions for knowledge and innovation-led growth thrive.
“As business leaders have made clear, HS2 is fundamental to rebalancing the UK’s economy. Britain needs both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a station in central Bradford, for the North and the UK economy to prosper in the decades ahead.”