Investment in the North of England has increased 100 per cent since the launch of the Northern Powerhouse initiative, Chancellor George Osborne claimed.
Almost two years to the day since it was launched to rebalance the economy away from the South East, Mr Osborne issued a robust defence of the Northern Powerhouse project during an interview with The Yorkshire Post.
Faced with mounting criticism of his commitment to initiative in the wake of the decision to close the offices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Sheffield, the chancellor insisted the project was on the right track.
Mr Osborne said: “It has been almost exactly two years since I set out plans to build the Northern Powerhouse to connect up the cities of the north so that the whole is stronger than the parts.
“Since I made that speech investment into the North of England has gone up more than 100 per cent.
“All of this would be put at risk if we left the EU.
“In those two years you have seen major new transport schemes committed to, like the Northern Hub and the trans pennine rail links.
“You have seen huge acts of devolution that no-one would have thought possible, in Sheffield and Manchester, and I hope to see it in the rest of Yorkshire.
“You have seen big commitments to science and technology in Yorkshire.
“And all of things are underway and being built, with elections set to take place.
“It is a very big idea about changing the economic structure of our country and more than 50 years of British history.”
Addressing the criticism over the BIS closures, he said: “The Business Department has gotten to big and we are trying to shrink it and save money for our country.
“But that is not the end of the Northern Powerhouse. We have the best opportunity I have seen in my lifetime to change this, with Labour civic leadership and a Conservative Government, with big ambitions for the north of England.
“Let’s make them happen. We all agree that it would be a good thing if the economic geography of the country changed and you can see that happening.”
The chancellor also had stark warning for the future of Yorkshire’s economy and public services if the nation voted to exit the EU on June 23.
The chancellor rejected the notion that the Government would have better served the nation by tabling their own reforms as opposed to offering a referendum.
“We are delivering economic security, there are tens of thousands more jobs in Yorkshire than when I went into Downing Street but in the end this issue our membership of the EU has hung over Yorkshire and British politics for decades and in all the years I have been in politics.
“It is right that in a democracy British people get a chance to make the decision. We should never be afraid in a British democracy to ask people what they think and going to them.
“I feel passionately that it would be bad for Yorkshire.”
Mr Osborne was speaking to The Yorkshire Post after visiting Teconnex, a manufacturing plant in Keighley, which he claimed would be damaged by voting for Brexit.
“We are in the big single markets of 500 million people where businesses like the one in Keighley I visited this morning export to.
“I though it very interesting that they seven years ago employed 100 people and now employ 500 people. Talking to the management they say 75 per cent of what we export goes to Europe. If we left there would be a huge amount of uncertainty, we would not know what our trading relationship would be, he would put on hold a lot of decisions because we do not know how out customers would react.
“Then on the shop floor and spoke to a man called David.
“He had previously been unemployed seven years ago and has got a job now and he was very worried that if we left the EU his job would be at risk.
“I though it was interesting that from both management and workforce you were getting the same message.”
The firm’s head of manufacturing Michael Love said: “There is a huge proportion of our exports that go into the EU. No-one knows what will happen if we vote to leave.”
- See tomorrow’s The Yorkshire Post for the chancellor’s views the EU’s financial transparency and the future for the Conservative Party.