Boost the north of England and the rest of the UK will benefit too

When incoming prime minister Theresa May spoke outside 10 Downing Street of the need to make the economy work for everyone, it was a welcome declaration but one wrongly identified as an attack on thenorthern powerhouse – a strategy aimed at improving the economy of every part of the north of England, not just one or two cities.

This starts with a recognition that the north of England is underperforming, but that with the right support and investment in its distinctive strengths, it could make a much greater contribution to its own and to the UK’s economy. This thinking originated in work initiated by the northern cities to develop a pan-regional transport strategy, published as One North and endorsed by every local authority across the area. At the core of this is an understanding that although the northern city regions are in global terms at best medium-sized, they are remarkably close together and, with vastly improved transport links, would make a virtual super city, big enough to benefit from agglomeration and specialisation and to balance, not compete with, London and the south-east.

The speculation in some quarters that the new government is lukewarm about the concept seems to stem from a number of misapprehensions. In some people’s minds the phrase “northern powerhouse” seems very baggage-laden and that gets in the way of a brand that has already been very effective on the international stage, and of this simple yet crucial idea: collectively, with better links and the right backing, the north of England can be more than the sum of its parts.

It is not, and never was, about redistribution of wealth away from the south or at the expense of the Midlands or any other parts of the country. At the heart of the northern powerhouse concept (however you choose to label it) is supporting and empowering the north to boost its productivity, create more wealth and jobs and make a greater contribution to the national economy. This was the north’s offer to central government, and it met a receptive audience. Our message wasn’t “we want a bigger slice of the cake”, it was “help us make a bigger cake”.

The recently published Northern Independent Economic Review, commissioned by Transport for the North, found that the north of England has the potential to add £97bn and 850,000 more jobs to the UK by 2050. This region of 16 million people – similar to that of the London city region as described by theRSA’s City Growth Commission – currently lags behind but has the potential to be truly globally competitive.

Over the last couple of years local authorities and local enterprise partnerships have worked with ministers to develop a single economic strategy for the north with shared priorities. In part this is to address a legacy of underinvestment by successive governments.

The north needs the right targeted investment in transport links building on HS2 to improve the woefully inadequate connections between its major cities and towns. The new industrial strategy can then build on our world-leading capabilities, identified by the independent review as advanced manufacturing, digital development, health innovation and energy. To encourage this growth it needs the support of education, logistics and financial and professional services.
Although HS2 is crucial in the long term, to maximise its impact we need major investment in improved east-west transport infrastructure, including the so-called HS3 stretching from Liverpool to Hull, plus other Transport for the Northproposals such as a new road tunnel linking Sheffield and Manchester. We also need investment immediately, in part to complete the Northern Hub and theelectrification of transPennine rail services.

It is a fundamental misconception that the northern powerhouse concept was purely about the big cities – the single economic narrative outlined in the review is as relevant in rural Cumbria as it is in urban Leeds. That is why every single local transport authority has joined Transport for the North and every single local enterprise partnership endorses the findings of the economic review. The north is speaking, and will continue to speak, with one unified voice and we intend to make sure that national decision-makers will continue to listen.

We’ve always known that delivering such transformational change would require a concerted long-term commitment and that is unwavering among northern leaders. We look forward to engaging constructively with the government to deliver an economy which works for everyone in the north.
Such certainty, and strategic vision, is more essential than ever in the climate following the referendum result. The case to invest in the north of England remains a compelling one. Unlocking the potential of the north is key to the success of the whole country – not at the expense of other areas, but as a complement to them.

Source: The Guardian
By Richard Leese



Latest news