LEADERS from across the North of England are demanding the Westminster Government commit to a ‘Northern Budget’ that will help the region establish a firm footing for economic growth.
The call, which is backed by members of Transport for the North’s (TfN) board, focuses heavily on infrastructure investment, particularly transport. Far removed from housing, it might be, but as recent research – and campaigning – by bodies such as Homes for the North demonstrates, the question of infrastructure and new homes go hand in hand. In that sense it helps set some of the conditions required to enable new development.
Northern leaders are calling on the Government to deliver on previous commitments made as part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda. It has been delivered just days after the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid announced a fast-track spending round for government departments for the next year.
“We need to urgently address decades of under-investment in infrastructure in the North which is why we are calling for a Northern Budget to help us rebalance the UK economy and deliver for our communities,” said Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport lead. “A modern, reliable, quick transport system must be the cornerstone of the economic transformation we and the country need to see in the North.”
Ben Houchen, the mayor of Tees Valley, added: “For the North to truly reach its potential, and for the Powerhouse project to succeed, we can’t be treated as the poor cousins to the South. We need more investment in Teesside as well as the whole of the North. I’ve been very vocal in calling for further Government funding to not just our region, but the wider North for projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“I’m never going to stop pushing for more local control and I’ve been heavily involved in this latest call as the Vice Chair of Transport for the North. Connecting our northern towns and cities via a high-quality transport network is vital to boost economic growth and job creation. It will help people access jobs and opportunities throughout the region and the wider North and it will help to unlock the plans I have to grow the Tees Valley.
“Projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail are essential for commuters, businesses and residents if we are to unlock the true potential of the North.”
The collective call seeks a commitment to three core “asks” for the North of England to get the “bare essentials” in better transport infrastructure in the short, medium and long-term.
It includes a commitment to a £7 billion Northern Infrastructure Pipeline, featuring road and rail projects which could start in the next five years, and which it is said have the potential to transform connectivity in the short-term. It includes:
- Commitment to a £7 billion Northern Infrastructure Pipeline – a list of shovel-ready road and rail projects to be delivered by the mid-2020s
- Commitment to build the full £39 billion Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network by 2040
- Commitment to £1 billion for Transport for the North over the next three years to deliver on its vision, including funding for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail and other road and rail schemes
“Government may look different, but our ‘asks’ are not,” said Steve Rotheram, metro mayor of Liverpool City Region. “We’re consistent and focussed in our plan for what infrastructure the North needs to unlock its full potential, not just for its own benefit, but for the whole UK. A ‘Northern Budget’ would be the ultimate demonstration of commitment.”
Barry White, TfN’s chief executive, said: “The North is now at the top of the national political agenda, with promises to balance out the UK’s economy and unleash our potential by better connecting our towns and cities. We now need a Northern Budget to make both the shovel-ready projects and the ambitious longer-term programmes like Northern Powerhouse Rail a reality.
“Closing the productivity gap between North and South is essential if we’re to compete on a global stage – but the North’s constrained by creaking infrastructure.
“These are the minimum requirements needed to overturn the underinvestment, under different Governments, stretching back decades. It’ll ensure the North becomes greater than the sum of its parts and will get the UK firing on all cylinders.
“Whilst the Government is planning for a one-year spending round for its departments against a Brexit backdrop, there is no reason why we can’t see real commitment and recognition of the ambitious pipeline of infrastructure investments the North so badly needs.”
Meanwhile, it seems that some of the North’s leaders at least will get the chance to reiterate their demands to the Treasury’s ‘emissary’, as the Exchequer Secretary, Simon Clarke MP kicks off a nationwide ‘goodwill’ tour with a visit to Greater Manchester.
According to the Treasury, Clarke will be pledging its “unflinching support to revitalising left-behind areas so they enjoy the opportunities ahead as the UK leaves the EU”.
During his visit to Greater Manchester, he’ll be meeting the combined authority’s metro mayor, Andy Burnham, where they are expected to discuss ways of delivering on the region’s devolution deals to drive growth and public service reform.
The Chancellor has pledged a “step change” in infrastructure investment right across the country and has committed the Treasury to publishing a National Infrastructure Strategy in the Autumn, which will set out long-term priorities.
Whether this document will go some way to meeting Northern leaders’ requirements for revitalising the region’s economic fortunes remains to be seen
“The Prime Minister was clear that we want to see success spread across not just our big cities but our towns and rural areas,” Clarke said, ahead of his trip. “[I]t is our priority to support regional growth and prosperity to maximise the potential of places like Bolton, Farnworth and Astley as we leave the EU. As a Northern MP [for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland], I know the hunger that exists to change how people view our region – and indeed how we view ourselves and our future.
“Here at the Treasury we will play our part by ensuring Britain gets the world-class infrastructure it needs to boost productivity, growth and quality of life, and I look forward to hearing people’s views. We want every corner of our great nation to thrive, and will deliver a step change in infrastructure investment across the country.
“The Northern Powerhouse – from its bustling, diverse cities, to culturally and industrially rich towns and regions – has our full support and we won’t rest until we have levelled out opportunities and unlocked the potential of every part of the UK.”
Not everyone is convinced, of course; Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Peter Dowd MP, dismissed the trip as a PR stunt.
“This PR exercise will do little to alleviate the billions of pounds cut from services across the north over nine long years of austerity,” he said.
“Tory governments have spent nearly a decade making empty promises of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, yet nothing has improved under their watch. Instead infrastructure investment has fallen, millions have faced real wage cuts, life expectancy has flat-lined, and homelessness has risen.”