Michael Heseltine: the Northern Powerhouse is “a glass half full”

The Tory grandee said that devolving political power west of the Pennines can kick-start the region’s economy.

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“There is a deep suspicion in Whitehall. They’re not going to be easily persuaded to hand power to you.”

Addressing a conference hall full of Northern councillors, academics, business leaders and other advocates of the Northern Powerhouse strategy, former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine gave an honest appraisal of the barriers facing further moves towards devolution. “It’s not rocket science,” he continued, “it’s what we’re like as human beings: what I have, I hold, and what you want is at my expense.”

Speaking as part of the recent conference held in Leeds Town Hall to coincide with the launch of the latest Spotlight report on the Northern Powerhouse, Heseltine expressed cautious optimism for the future of the North and its regional autonomy. “You could look at this whole devolution issue as a glass half full or a glass half empty. I’m on the half full side because I happen to think that over the last three years we’ve seen a very significant advancement, but nothing like what it should be, and nothing like the model I would like.”

Sounding a note of caution, the Tory peer made a veiled reference to the several abortive attempts at spreading devolution deals to the North East and East of the Pennines, scuppered in the past by internecine battles between neighbouring local councils over the proposed structures and makeup of new devolved authorities. “I wonder if those who are pursuing their own tribal instincts, dare I use those words, to protect what they’ve now got, realise the damage that does in the corridors of power in London. Because what it really says is ‘they can’t even agree on this or that, how can we trust them with the major resources and the major shift in power that they’re asking for if they can’t even reach agreement.’”

Heseltine, who was awarded Freedom of the City of Liverpool in 2011 for his efforts in jump-starting a so-called “urban renaissance” in the city after the Toxteth Riots of 1981, claimed that “the Northern Powerhouse grew out of the autonomy that Manchester and Liverpool pioneered.”

“I hope”, he added, “that next time we have this conference, east of the Pennines will have the same proud achievements as the west.”