RURAL areas will not be left behind in the Government’s drive to close the North-South divide, a key minister has pledged.
Andrew Percy moved to counter concerns that the Northern Powerhouse initiative he now leads for new Prime Minister Theresa May is focused on growth in cities and in particular establishing Manchester as a ‘capital’ for the North.
The Northern Powerhouse Minister also used his first official visit in the role to call for progress in talks over giving more areas of Yorkshire greater control over their own affairs.
Concerns have been growing that Yorkshire is in danger of swapping a North-South divide for an East-West split as Manchester appears to be central to plans to improve transport in the North and has been given more powers to make its own decisions free from Government control.
Mr Percy, the Brigg and Goole MP, said: “Manchester, Leeds, the big cities in the North are obviously central to what happens in terms of the economy of the North but the Northern Powerhouse isn’t just about that.
“The economy of the Humber is hugely important, you only have to look at the port structures around here and how much business and trade that takes place in the North starts here.
“So I am very clear that, of course, yes, our core cities are really important to the Northern Powerhouse but actually whether it is Sunderland, whether it’s Beverley, whether it is Manchester all of those communities are equally important. The rural economy is as important, because it employs so many people in the North, as the urban economy.
“I don’t want to get in to the whole is it Manchester versus Bradford or Bridlington versus Burnley. It isn’t about that. We all want the same thing which is development and growth in the North. All elements of it are important.”
Mr Percy was speaking during a visit to ABP in Hull to see the Siemens wind turbine blade factory taking shape, formally agree an extension to enterprise zones on the Humber and welcome a string of new projects from the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership.
One of Mr Percy’s first acts as a Minister was to push regulations through parliament which will enable the devolution deal agreed with the Sheffield City Region group of councils to come into effect, including the creation of a new mayor for the area in 2017.
Negotiations over similar agreements covering other parts of Yorkshire have hit the buffers as councils struggle to agree whether to have a single deal for the rest of the region or several covering smaller areas.
Mr Percy said: “Actually I think one of the biggest issues around I hear as a northerner myself and a local lad here is a disconnection with the people who make decisions for them be that Westminster or, as we saw recently, further afield. I think it’s really important we get the devolution deals in place because that does bring more power, more locally exercised power closer to the people and it comes with some distinct advantages.”
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