Thursday 5th January 2017
Kevin Hollinrake, a member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton
At the back end of this summer, there were reports that the new Government was going cold on the whole idea of the Northern Powerhouse. However, I do not believe that is so. The Prime Minister and her team have made clear their determination to redress the balance between the North and South.
And rightly so. The economic gap between the South and the rest of the country has been left to grow for too long. Between 2004 and 2013, only one job was created in cities outside of the South for every twelve jobs created in cities in the South. According to the House of Commons Library, annual per person spending in London on transport projects stands at around £800, whilst in the regions we are given £300. Can that really be fair?
Of course, there has been some good news in the North, too. Since 2010, unemployment in the North of England has fallen by a third and the median earnings of full-time employees grew faster in all regions of the North than they did in London. But there is still much we need to do, including investment in infrastructure, housing, skills and digital connectivity. There are still some remote areas of my constituency with neither superfast broadband nor a mobile signal.
I believe that connecting the cities, towns and rural communities of the North, with their own devolved regional powers, in one big Northern Powerhouse, stretching from Windermere to Filey and from Hull to Newcastle, is a huge step in the right direction. It will unlock the significant growth potential which exists in the North and give it the boost it needs.
The problem is that, at the moment, the Northern Powerhouse is very lopsided. It is going well in Manchester and Liverpool but in my home county of Yorkshire we still do not have the devolution deal that ten other regions are already enjoying. North, West and East Yorkshire is home to six and a half million people and whilst the successful regions are able to make decisions for themselves (without having to ask permission of central government), and have secured funding to support these decisions, we are missing out. Take our neighbours in Manchester, for example; they have responsibility for a devolved and consolidated transport budget; £300 million Housing Investment Fund over 10 years; monies for apprenticeships and skills; an ability to retain 100 per cent of business rates from next year; and devolved powers of over £6 billion for NHS and social care budgets.
In Yorkshire, there have been deals on the table but not one which we can all get behind. The more we dither, the more we lose out. I favour a Greater Yorkshire deal to include West, North, East and Hull. Granted, it would be more complicated that Greater Manchester, which brought together all the local authorities within the Greater Manchester area, but the benefits would be huge.
It would mean we could address some of the main challenges driving the productivity gap across the North, which is the biggest reason for the big “performance gap” with the rest of England. It would mean more investment in skilling up our workers, better utilisation of innovations and technology, and higher levels of investment across the board, including in transport, digital networks and housing.
The Northern Powerhouse cannot be really great unless it encompasses the whole of the North, which must include Yorkshire and the North East, making the very best of all we have to offer. It is up to us in Yorkshire to do our bit, so we must put aside our political differences and artificial boundaries and urge our local leaders to bring us all together for the good of this generation and the generations that follow.
The idea that it is “grim up North” is not only wrong but a myth that we need to bury once and for all.