PRIME Minister David Cameron is accused of breaking a key promise to Yorkshire, a year after travelling to the region and pledging to “breathe economic life into the towns and cities outside the M25”.
In his first major speech as Premier, in Shipley exactly a year ago today, Mr Cameron pledged to introduce a team of City Ministers to champion the region’s economic powerhouses and help bridge the North-South divide.
But despite pledging to act within weeks – filling the gap left by the axing of Labour’s Regional Ministers – no City Ministers have been appointed. The revelation comes as business leaders question the impact of Government promises of special assistance for areas including the North which have been badly hit by the economic crisis and face large numbers of public sector job losses.
Downing Street officials insist they are “still very keen” on introducing City Ministers after Mr Cameron declared: “I will be assigning Ministers and senior MPs to some of our biggest cities, with responsibility to work with local communities to help drive forward economic development by making sure blockages in Whitehall are dealt with.”
But, with no appointments yet, critics question how much of a priority it is for the Government.
Rosie Winterton, who was Labour’s Yorkshire Minister, said it exposed a “lack of vision”. She said: “Now, more than ever, this region needs a strong voice in Parliament – but Mr Cameron effectively stripped that from Yorkshire’s five million residents when he removed Regional Ministers.”
A year on from the Shipley speech – and after a chaotic transition from regional development agencies to council and business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships – the Government’s measures to help the region have met with a cautious verdict from businesses.
With big cuts to funding for councils and economic development as the Government prioritises cutting the budget deficit, Ministers are relying on thousands of jobs being created in Yorkshire to soak up public sector job losses and get the economy growing.
Businesses back measures such as cutting corporation tax, planning rules and red tape, but there is also anxiety about whether Mr Cameron can live up to his pledge to crack the north-south divide.
In a recent heated exchange, senior Tory Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, accused Mr Cameron of offering “friendly language” but little substance about how he will fulfil his drive to “rebalance” the economy.
Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce’s head of policy, Richard Kendall, said: “If the economy is being rebalanced, we haven’t seen much evidence of it yet. Profits are back up in the City, but things are still difficult for companies in our area. There haven’t been many concrete things that will specifically help the North.”
Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Gary Williamson said: “Over the last 12 months, there has been a great deal of consultation by the Government and it is still very much ‘work in progress’.”
He said the only measure which appears to have been aimed specifically at northern economies was a National Insurance contribution holiday for new firms but added: “While this policy looks good on paper, in reality, very few new businesses will employ people in their first 12 months of trading.”
IPPR North think-tank director Ed Cox said: “The Government has made some very important and strong noises about the importance of private sector growth against public sector-led economic development and I think that message is important.”
But he said measures to stimulate private sector growth were “very limited in comparison to the deep and rapid cuts that they’re making to the public sector”.
A Downing Street spokesman said the Government was committed to helping councils “break through the Whitehall red tape trap in order to drive economic growth from the bottom up”.