The Northern Powerhouse is in the last chance saloon

13 Sep 17

The North of England deserves the same opportunities and investment as the south, says Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson

Is anyone at the top of government interested in developing the economy in the north of England?

These days, it’s not a simple question to answer.

We hear reassuring noises about the Northern Powerhouse – the government’s catch-all term for catalysing the economy in the north of England – but, like a late train, the message is constantly ‘it will be along in a minute,’ only for the service to be indefinitely delayed. Or, indeed, cancelled.

The scrapping of electrification projects in the north of England and elsewhere back in July was made in the same week that the Crossrail 2 line in London was approved.

The irony appeared lost on transport ministers.

By all means let’s improve London's connectivity, but the north of England deserves the same chance too.

This isn’t meant as a political attack, it’s just a statement of reality.

The frustration of political leaders in the North is that improving our local city-regional economies – which in turn helps the overall economy – represents one of the clearest areas of overlap in British politics.

However, this cross-party agreement about rebalancing our national economy must finally now translate into action. The issues we face are too pressing. The inequalities too vast. The missed opportunities too great.

Last week Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said our economic model in this country is “broken” and that we stand at a “watershed moment” in deciding what sort of economy we need.

“We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising,” he added.

He was right.

We need a new contract between all parts of our country. One that sees a fair public spending settlement and catch-up investment to equip all parts of the country with the basic infrastructure needed to make our local economies realise their full potential.

My reading of George Osborne’s enthusiasm for the Northern Powerhouse was the reality of sitting in the Treasury and seeing just how much potential is squandered by failing to make the national economy fire on all cylinders.

He saw that while London and the South East were overheating, two hours up the M6 and M1 the great cities of the North of England – Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle – were barely warming up.

They will remain lagging behind until adequate funding is put in place. In this respect, the Northern Powerhouse concept is now drinking in the last chance saloon.

We in the North need greater power and finance in order to shape our future; but that future is about us playing a bigger more strategic role in the national economy.

It’s a question of rights and responsibilities. Give us the investment we need – especially for strategic transport initiatives - and we will deliver returns for the country.

But the changing of the guard at the Treasury following Osborne’s departure must not result in any further delay. We await the Autumn Budget on 22 November to see if the promise of the Northern Powerhouse will now finally turn into reality.

It’s over to you Mr Hammond.

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