How the Great Northern Conference will help find path to recovery - Henri Murison

Next month, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership will join forces with The Yorkshire Post to hold the Great Northern Conference – a meeting of business and civic leaders, from Liverpool to Newcastle, spanning all industries and cross political parties

The conference will consider issues affecting all sectors of the economy.

It will be an opportunity to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing communities across the whole of our region, as well as to work together on forward-thinking solutions for the path to recovery.

Moreover, it’ll be a chance for the North as a whole to make our case to the government as to why investment and real devolution is needed now more than ever – and to hold ministers to account for their broken promises over the ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

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Today, six years after our chair George Osborne set out his vision for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the UK still remains one of the most centralised, regionally imbalanced developed countries in the world.

It’s a system that isn’t working. Months of Whitehall incompetence have proved that national bureaucracies fail to deliver, whether it’s Public Health England on PPE or test and trace, not utilising the local public health teams early enough. Decisions are best made by accountable local leaders, able to respond to specific local challenges and directly answerable to the voters who elect them.

This is not just about bringing about the end to decades of gaping regional disparity but seeing the North’s value for what it’s worth – a huge economic engine of opportunity, one that is larger than Scotland and Wales combined.

Years of chronic underinvestment have meant the government has still failed to capitalise on the North’s world-leading capabilities or harness its true investment potential.

Our internationally competitive, highly productive assets in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital make the North ideal for investment and building back better post Covid – alongside delivering a long overdue economic rebalancing.

As Northern Powerhouse Partnership we wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to outline our recommendations for how to turn ‘levelling-up’ into a reality.

Top of the list was the call to devolve health spending and investment decisions to those areas such as the Tees Valley with existing Metro Mayoral deals, and offered by default in further devolution deals.

The Greater Manchester health devolution approach has already shown what is possible in this area, acting as an example to other places on ways health and social care can be integrated to serve local people better.

Further devolution of funding and powers supported by Metro Mayor of Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis, and Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, the Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is also needed for housing, transport and, crucially, skills – in order to allow those who have lost their jobs in recent months to reskill in key sectors of growth, including the green economy.

Secondly, we reiterated the need to follow through on Project Speed to drive connectivity across the North, increasing much-needed capacity on the rail lines and boosting productivity.

Here, this would be driven forward by the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, addressing the North-South divide and delivering key road and rail schemes prioritised by Transport for the North.

One issue which has been brought to the fore by the pandemic has been the growing digital divide, which widens the gap further between the wealthier and the most disadvantaged in society.

We need roll out of full fibre and 5G across the Northern Powerhouse, addressing it in left behind towns with a dedicated fund, with subsidised provision for the unemployed

and low-income families of school age children to ensure they can access better opportunities.

We have also asked the Chancellor for backing for a National Patient Capital Fund up to £25bn to invest in start-up and growing businesses, with a greater proportion allocated to

Northern businesses and towards decarbonisation.

Alongside greater investment flexibilities within existing funding streams, this will unlock more economic potential across the North.

Lastly, we believe that by accelerating the path to net zero, the North can spearhead a green recovery – leading the way on decarbonisation and sustainable energy through the

rollout of Small Modular Reactors and a Carbon Capture and Storage Cluster on the Humber up to Drax in North Yorkshire.

We believe all these proposals, which we put together with a wide range of business leaders across the North, are both realistic and achievable. Not only that, they are necessary – now

more than ever.

It’s time for the North to make its voice heard and demand the tools to build back better as Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Prime Minister have led calls for.

Henri Murison - Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership

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James Mitchinson