Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
21 February 2020updated 25 Jul 2021 3:20pm

Poll: More than half of northern councillors are opposed to HS2

An exclusive survey of local government representatives in the North of England delivers devastating verdicts on the government's Northern Powerhouse strategy. 

By Jonny Ball

The vast majority of councillors in the North of England have been forced to make drastic cuts to essential services, from social care to waste collection, since the launch of the Northern Powerhouse strategy. An exclusive survey by the New Statesman‘s Spotlight policy supplement has found that 97 per cent of councillors said their funding from central government was inadequate, including 80 per cent of Conservative respondents. 

HS2, which was recently given the go ahead by the Prime Minister and has been billed as the first of many infrastructure projects essential to boosting northern prosperity, left our survey respondents unconvinced: 59 per cent were opposed, including 80 per cent of Conservative councillors.

Last year, around 40 local news brands launched a campaign demanding a “revolution” in the way northern regions are treated. They drew attention to a report comparing disparities between North and South with those between East and West Germany at the end of the Cold War. These divides have only been exacerbated by austerity. According to the poll, 82 per cent of councillors said funding to cultural and leisure facilities had been cut since the Northern Powerhouse launched in 2014, 76 per cent said funding to libraries had been cut, 69 per cent had made cuts to social care, and 76 per cent had cut funding to the road maintenance and transport budgets. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Trust in the efficacy of the Powerhouse initiative is low, with 86 per cent reporting no tangible benefits in their areas. A further 87 per cent said the cuts to their local authority budgets were a barrier to local growth.

To see the full results of the survey in our Spotlight Northern Powerhouse policy report click here

Content from our partners
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"

[See also: The voice of northern business]

Despite the high-profile relocation of the BBC and Channel 4 to Salford and Leeds respectively, only 16 per cent of councillors said it was easy to attract investment and only a fifth said that businesses were choosing to locate their headquarters or operations in their local areas. Just a quarter reported increasing numbers of people moving into their area, while only 10 per cent said their village, town or city did not suffer brain drain to other parts of the country. 

The dramatic defection of Labour’s former “red wall” to the Conservatives in December’s general election has thrust the North into the news agenda once more. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put tackling regional inequality at the heart of his rhetoric, with “levelling up” soundbites repeated ad infinitum. But the responses we received in our research shows the vast scale of the task if his promises are to be kept.

To see the full results of the survey in our Spotlight Northern Powerhouse policy report click here