A Tale of Two Countries

Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, on the failings of the Northern Powerhouse, and how Liverpool is attempting to turn the tide in an era of austerity.

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Britain has become a tale of two halves. If evidence were needed that this government solely governs for the South let’s just follow the money. In this crippling era of austerity, the colossal inequalities between North and South are greater than ever, and yet our nation’s decision-makers remain incapable of breaking out of their Whitehall bubble.

They smugly wrap their arms around their budgets, wholly ignorant of the human cost of their blinkered decisions – be it Universal Credit, public transport, or the inability or refusal to reform local taxation. Just 200 miles away in Liverpool, I see the stark consequences of these actions every day. I see it in the 32,000 children living in poverty, the return of diseases not seen since Victorian times and the staggering rise in foodbanks. I see it in the vast life expectancy disparities, in the lower educational attainment of our children and in the higher rates of unemployment. I see it in the failure to invest in transport links –  a failure that further cements a geographical barrier.

Last month I spoke at a New Statesman conference on the Northern Powerhouse – the vision of which was meant to go some way to addressing these inequalities. In a country dominated by a southern-centric economy and one of the most centralised governments in the world, this was the chance for a conglomerate of towns and cities in the North – with a population bigger than London and an economy greater than Scotland - to redress the balance.

Promises were made and plans were laid. Jake Berry was appointed as the Minister in charge of helping the ambitions of the Powerhouse be realised. And then the B-word happened!

Consumed in self-interest, blunders, disasters and dithering, the government has made sure that the Northern Powerhouse has remained a pipe dream. Considering the lack of real substantive work on the ground, we’re in no better position than if Mary Berry had been at the helm.

So with the Powerhouse indefinitely stalled and the icy fingers of austerity tightening their dead-hand grip, we’ve done what we have always done as a resilient, can do city - looked forward and forged ahead. The government’s flawed funding formula has lost us an utterly debilitating 63 per cent of our budget – the equivalent of £436million a year – but we are a city of innovators and creators and have found new ways to not only survive, but to thrive.

You only have to look at our £1bn project at Paddington Village to see how far we’ve come. A world-leading innovation district is going to be a game-changer for our economy, housing some of the world’s most influential players in science, health, technology and education. The Northern HQ for the Royal College of Physicians and the Rutherford Cancer Centre are just some of the names moving in, creating highly paid jobs and new avenues to retain more of our talented graduates.

Invest to Earn is another route we have taken that has seen us investing in the private sector to generate an income. We’ve purchased the historic Cunard building that has not only generated a rental income but has also significantly increased in value. And so by thinking differently and more commercially, we’ve been able to protect our vital services and the most vulnerable in our city.

So, if this can be done without help – and under such difficult circumstances –  just think how great our cities and towns of the North could be if the Government were to just support us.

But for the real potential of the Northern Powerhouse to be realised, meaningful fiscal devolution needs to happen, with a move towards more decentralised policymaking.The power needs to be in the hands of the people who know the strengths of their region, rather than with out-of-touch politicians and mandarins living in the leafy suburbs within the M25.

For it to really work, we need targeted funding and rather that just one minister for the Northern Powerhouse, a whole team. For Liverpool at least, our best days are yet to come, and with or without the help of the government, I will do all I can to make sure that this is realised.

Joe Anderson is Mayor of Liverpool.