A STRATEGY to close the North-South economic divide will be harmed if the Government takes a “piecemeal” approach to devolving powers to the North of England, a leading lawyer has warned.
Jamie Martin, the managing partner of Ward Hadaway, fears that Yorkshire could miss out on the chance to achieve its potential if the Government fails to produce a coherent plan for its Northern Powerhouse policy. Mr Martin is concerned that the Northern Powerhouse - a package of measures which aim to cut the North-South economic divide - may start to be narrowed, and its ambitions curtailed.
He added: “For instance, while it has been very welcome for Greater Manchester to have secured a £1bn package of investment and devolved powers from Whitehall, a similar deal for West Yorkshire has still not materialised, despite being promised towards the end of last year.”
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg blamed the “clammy hand of the Treasury” for the delay in delivering the West Yorkshire devolution package.
Mr Martin, who leads a law firm which has offices in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, added: “While there may be perfectly good reasons for the delay, it does create a suspicion that Whitehall does not share the North’s enthusiasm for devolved powers and spending.
“Even when the West Yorkshire package does materialise, there is a danger that politicians may think it is ‘job done’ for the Northern Powerhouse when it is actually only the start of the process..Awarding devolution packages one by one, to smaller areas, may fail to produce a coherent pan-Northern plan which really makes the most of the many different talents right across the region.
“The Government has already been criticised by the Commons Public Accounts Committee for what it described as a ‘piecemeal’ approach to rail investment, particularly on the HS2 project, and for failing to properly take into account the needs of all areas of the country when putting together its plans. We must hope this does not happen with the Northern powerhouse.”
The recent Centre for Cities report flagged up the continuing – and in some cases, widening – economic gap between the North and the South, with 12 jobs created in Southern cities for every one job created elsewhere in the country. Of the 10 towns and cities in Yorkshire examined by the report, four saw no net change in the number of jobs over the last 10 years and six experienced a net loss.
A Treasury spokesman said: “The Chancellor has been clear in his ambition to support the development of a Northern Powerhouse which encompasses the whole of the North of England. That’s why, as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, he recently set out a £7bn investment across the whole of the North and reiterated that the door is open to proposals from any city region that wants to bring forward devolution plans. The Government is currently having discussions with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on this.”
Coun Keith Wakefield, the leader of Leeds City Council, said: “While local areas are best placed to know local needs, we have to work across borders, particularly on issues such as transport and skills training, to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place and the right people ready to deliver the maximum benefits to spread the economic growth across the region.”
Mr Martin made his comments as the build-up continues to the Yorkshire Fastest 50, the annual run-down of the fastest growing
privately owned companies in Yorkshire which Ward Hadaway sponsors and organises in association with The Yorkshire Post.
The awards take place at Aspire in Leeds on Friday March 20.