The Angel of the North on February 3, 2012 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How Osborne could use the Budget to make peace with the north

Rather than token announcements, the Chancellor needs to give much more meaningful power and autonomy to cities.

George Osborne is likely to use tomorrow's Budget to make another peace offering to the north of England, normally in the form of a transport (re)announcement – last time it was some pennies for the North East Metro, at the Autumn Statement it was Northern Hub. The Budget represents a key staging post ahead of the local elections. Some Tories like David Skelton have got a keen eye on how the Conservatives will fare in May as they know that to win a general election next year, they’ve got to retain and build on their seats up north. They particularly fear UKIP eating into their vote share in the region.

But it wasn’t always the case that the Tories struggled so much in the north. In fact, history shows that the Conservative Party had an important role in the growth of England’s great Victorian cities. Both Joseph and Neville Chamberlain were key figures in the rise of Birmingham in the late 19th century. Disraeli famously set out his vision for the nation in Manchester stating "what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow". Lesser-known figures such as William Huskisson were behind major infrastructure developments like the Liverpool-Manchester Railway and even up until the 1960s, the Tories controlled the city of Liverpool and still boasted Conservative champions like Michael Heseltine.

What Osborne’s predecessors grasped was the importance of powerful, autonomous cities, not only in driving national economic prosperity but also as the basis for strong civic institutions and a vibrant local democracy. Much of this was stripped away under Thatcher, but if the Tories want to win back the big cities they need to revisit their strong civic past and give much more meaningful power and autonomy to cities than we have so far witnessed. The coalition’s "City Deals" – championed by smoggie Greg Clarke MP - only went so far and seem to have run out of steam. The localism agenda largely bypassed councils and was a front for cuts.

So rather than baubles and sweeteners, what could Osborne do with the Budget that could set a new direction for city growth?

First, he could revisit the excellent Heseltine Review and specifically carve out much more substantive elements of departmental budgets to put into the Single Local Growth Fund – the current £4bn over five years is derisory and has reduced strategic economic planning in most cities to a small-scale bidding contest between Local Enterprise Partnerships. We need large-scale five-year settlements with city regions to allow them to get on with the joint task of economic growth and public service reform.

Building on this, cities should be allowed to keep the proceeds of economic growth and public sector savings. The concept of "earnback" has been instituted through the GM Infrastructure Fund but now it needs to be applied more widely in relation to all economic growth, welfare and housing as IPPR North has argued.

And finally, Osborne needs to go much further than the current business rate retention scheme and set out bold ideas for giving cities much great fiscal autonomy. The London Finance Commission was keen to devolve land and property taxes. Gordon Brown's suggestions for the devolution of income tax in Scotland could set a precedent for some kind of income tax assignment in England too. However it is achieved, fiscal autonomy is a key plank of the success of cities in other developed nations and in England we are getting left behind.

Time is running out for the coalition government to really drive the cities agenda that promised so much at the beginning of the Parliament. Not only is this the right thing to do for the national economy – it is probably their only chance of being returned to power. Let us hope that the Chancellor grasps the spirit of his northern predecessors more fully, rather than present us with just another northern Budget bauble.

Ed Cox (@edcox_ippr) is the director of IPPR North. 

Ed Cox is Director at IPPR North. He tweets @edcox_ippr.

Richard Burden
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The warnings Bosnian gravestones carry for us in 2016

Xenophobia does not usually lead to Srebrenica. But it can do.

Two weeks ago, I joined a visit to Bosnia organised by Remember Srebrenica. If you have ever seen one of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Northern France, you will have a sense of what the cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, is like. Row upon row of identical white headstones stretching into the distance. Whereas in France, of course, most of the headstones are marked by the cross, in Potocari they are white obelisks. Overwhelmingly, they mark the graves of Muslims.

In the 1990s, the old battery factory of Potocari was the headquarters of Dutch troops. They had been deployed to uphold the United Nations designation of the enclave as a safe area. Their presence, however, did not stop Serb troops from rounding up around 25,000 people sheltering at the base in July 1995. Once the UN troops stood aside, families were divided. Most of the women and children were loaded and sent west to areas of the country still controlled by the Bosnian government. The men and boys were loaded on to separate trucks. Within days, most of them were systematically shot.

Many other men and boys had already taken to the woods to escape, only to face shells, snipers and ambush on the way. Some, like 19-year-old Hasan Hasanovic, made it through to free territory around Tuzla. Many did not. Those did not die in the woods were either persuaded to give themselves up, or were captured. Like the men and boys who had been taken from outside the UN base at Potocari, most simply disappeared. To this day, their bones are still being found in or near mass graves in eastern Bosnia.

And so, 21 years on, I met Hasan at Potocari. July1995 was the last time he saw his twin brother Hussein, his father Aziz or his uncle, Hasan.

The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described the Srebrenica massacre as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Indeed, the word massacre doesn’t convey the enormity of what happened. Earlier this year, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found 1990s Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of involvement in genocide. The verdict in the trial of military leader Ratko Mladic is expected later this year.

Nobody who visits Potocari can fail to be moved by what you see there. For me, it brought back memories of how, as a new MP back in the 1990s, I was one of those calling for more assertive international action to stop the carnage that was unfolding in Bosnia. It was an unfamiliar position to find myself in. All my political life until that point, I had been amongst those opposing involvement in military action abroad. Now I found myself supporting intervention. For three years before the Srebrenica genocide, people in Sarajevo had been starved of food, medicines and even the means to defend themselves as their city was remorselessly pounded from the hills that surround it. We knew it. We could see it on TV. We also saw that neither Europe nor NATO nor the UN were taking action that could have stopped it.

There were always so many geopolitical reasons not to intervene effectively. I heard them day after day from Ministers in the House of Commons. But that did not help the men, women and children who were dying in Sarajevo, and in 1995 it did not save Hasan’s twin brother, his father, his uncle or the 8,000 others who ended up in the mass graves around Srebrenica.

Since I have returned from Bosnia, two things keep dominating my thinking. The first is about Syria. The political circumstances that have led to the destruction of Aleppo today are not the same as those facing Sarajevo in the 1990s. For people trapped there though, the parallels must feel much more real than the differences. I don’t claim to have an off-the-shelf action plan for what the international community should do today any more than anyone else does. I just keep thinking how in twenty years’ time, people visiting Aleppo - hopefully reconstructed as Sarajevo has been today - will ask: “How could the world have let this happen in 2016?” What will be our answer?

The other thing that dominates my thoughts is that the genocide in Bosnia hit people like me. A man I met, who unexpectedly found himself becoming a soldier in 1992, told me how, before the war, he wore a t-shirt, jeans and an earring. On a good day, he would to listen to the Ramones. On a bad day, it would be the Sex Pistols. I am a bit older than him, but this was still my generation. And it happened In Europe.

What is more, the murders and the ethnic cleansing were not committed by strangers. So often, they were committed by neighbours. These were normal people who had been whipped up to dehumanise those who they were told were “different”. They were told that their way of life was under threat. They internalised it. They believed it. And, down the line, they no longer needed persuading it was “them or us”.

Most of the time, xenophobia does not lead to the horrors that have scarred Srebrenica forever. But it can do. That a lesson for all of us must never forget. So next time you hear someone talking about people living either down the road or across the sea being "them" not "us", don't shrug and walk away. Speak up and speak out instead.

Richard Burden is Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield and a Shadow Transport Minister. He visited Bosnia with the Remembering Srebrenica charity in October 2016. You can find out more about the Remembering Srebrenica charity here.

Richard Burden is MP for Birmingham Northfield. Follow him on Twitter @RichardBurdenMP.