A new plan for the north

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse Andrew Percy says devolution deals will transfer millions in investment

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For too long, the United Kingdom has been much too dependent on growth in a single city. As the Prime Minister set out recently, writing in the Yorkshire Post, the Northern Powerhouse remains a crucial part of our ambition to create a country with a balanced economy that works for everyone – by helping the great cities and towns of the north to pool their strengths and take on the world.

The northern economy already hosts more than half a million businesses and many of the world’s finest universities and research institutions. Fifteen million people call the north home – that’s more than Hong Kong, London or New York City.

In the past year alone, the number of people in work in the north increased by one person every five minutes – to 121,000 in total – and the number of businesses increased by 10 per cent.

This Conservative government realises the huge untapped potential of our great northern towns and cities to become a powerhouse for our economy. We will achieve this with a revolutionary new style of governance through devolution, increased investment and modern transport links.

Devolution

After decades of central control, the system for local government in England is experiencing its biggest change for generations. For too long, successive governments were content to hoard power in Whitehall and hope growth would trickle down from London. Those days are over.

We are determined to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few; to create a country in which – wherever you are from, whatever your background – you can work hard and get on in life.

The north’s devolution deals will see billions transferred from Whitehall to town halls in the north, alongside the power to make decisions that local people really care about. Through elected mayors, with elections next year, there will always be the strong, accountable governance arrangements in place to ensure local voices are heard.

Investment

My appointment as Minister for the Northern Powerhouse reaffirms the government’s 100 per cent commitment to seeing people and businesses in the north thrive.

The Northern Powerhouse is now a name recognised and admired around the world and is being backed up with massive investment in science and technology, transport and connectivity, culture and tourism, and ever greater powers for local communities.

Now we are looking to build on this momentum through an industrial strategy that focuses on improving productivity, rewarding hard-working people with higher wages, and creating more opportunities for young people.

We want to build on the progress made in the north of England but also to support economic growth across the country and tap the potential of all our cities. This new emphasis will be constructed on solid economic and cultural foundations.

Throughout history, the north’s wealth and prosperity have been linked to its industrial power and commercial enterprise – today’s growth is no different. That’s why we have developed 17 enterprise zones across the Northern Powerhouse, centres of excellence offering world-class infrastructure alongside financial incentives to help businesses grow.

Investing in talented individuals in high-value technical industries – many of them graduates of the north’s world-class universities – is helping to build strong support networks for businesses across the region. And companies such as Boeing, Siemens and Rolls-Royce are already moving in.

Local communities have already been backed with significant cash for investment. In the last round of Growth Deals, £2.8bn was given to decision-makers across the north to support local businesses and infrastructure, with projects such as the £5m Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield, which will create up to 1,000 high-value jobs and is attracting investment from companies like Toshiba and Westfield Health. And with a new round of Growth Deals this year, worth up to £1.8bn, it’s clear the “Whitehall knows best” mentality is gone.

Transport

Good transport infrastructure is vital to making this a reality. Transport for the north has been established and provided with £200m to set a clear direction for investment and ensure that this money is targeted where it is needed most to transform transport for the whole area. We’ve committed to spending a record £13bn on transport in the north by 2020. We are putting the Northern Powerhouse in the fast lane for infrastructure.

We’re building new bridges such as the £486m Mersey Gateway bridge and the Wear crossing. Key road improvements include multimillion-pound upgrades to the A1 and M62. Meanwhile northern railways are being prioritised through the electrification of the TransPennine railway and HS2.

Northern Powerhouse partners

Step by step, we are making the Northern Powerhouse a reality. But we know there is much more to do and that is why we ask that you judge a project of this scale in years, not months.

The next stage of this journey is to make sure local people and businesses are the real drivers of its success. That is why we’ve launched a “partner scheme” for businesses in the north to help those responsible for its economic renaissance take ownership of the powerful brand. Already this includes businesses such as Manchester Airport Group, the Peel Group and Atkins, and we want many more to sign up.

I would urge businesses to get involved because, following the Brexit vote, the north must seize the historic and positive opportunities on offer.

Over the past year, trade missions, our Northern Powerhouse “Pitchbook” and award-winning promotional videos have already highlighted to foreign investors more than £24bn of investment opportunities. And in that time, we’ve seen money coming in to numerous investment projects, including in Manchester, Stockport and Newcastle.

Time and again, businesses abroad have said the north has some of the best products and people in the world – and, as a proud Yorkshireman, of course I would agree. In fact, EY’s research revealed that the number of foreign direct investment projects in the north has increased 127 per cent in the past two years alone.

Brexit will allow Britain to forge a new place in the world, with new freedoms, new opportunities and new horizons for the north. As we work hard to get the best deal for the UK, so must the north.