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.
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.
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.