Dan Jarvis, mayor for the Sheffield City Region, told The Yorkshire Post that a lasting legacy of the crisis was likely to see huge changes to the way that business is conducted, how we travel and how we use technology.
Mr Jarvis said that an economic recovery alone would be insufficient to meet the scale of change needed and instead called for renewal.
Among the measures he called for were for the mooted MIT for the North to not only go ahead but be based in Yorkshire.
The title, referring to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been used to describe plans for a world-leading institution in the north to rival Oxford and Cambridge.
Mr Jarvis said that the technological expertise and cutting edge work done at the Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre (AMRC) in South Yorkshire made the region an ideal location for such a facility.
The mayor also called for the means of judging the suitability of Government spending, the so-called Green Book, to be rewritten by the Treasury to ensure it no longer is skewed towards London and the South East.
Mr Jarvis said: “Although this crisis is horrendous and a horrible situation for the whole country, I think we need to try and draw out some lessons of what we have learned from it in terms of how we do business, how we move around and how we harness technology to live happier, healthier and more economically productive lives.
“There are opportunities in the north of England for us to show a lead on that front.”
He added: “If the Government is really serious about the Northern Powerhouse, and I very much hope that they are, it certainly should look for an opportunity to set up the MIT of the North that they have been talking about for quite some time.
“I think there is a big opportunity for us here in Yorkshire, with the AMRC and assets like that, to play a leading role in the Government’s planned MIT. That could be a really good way of sparking quite significant economic development across the north of England, working closely with our universities, our local authorities and the private sector.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a review of the Green Book in March and leading business organisations and unions support it being redrawn.
Although the Government is currently propping up thousands of businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Jarvis said that there were easier things it could do “largely with the stroke of a pen” to unlock millions of pounds of funding for the region.
“There are some relatively minor but hugely significant changes that could be made that would enable our ability to transform our economic fortunes much easier and a revised HMT green Book criteria is a big part of that,” he said.
“Although it is a technical thing it is massive thing. You have got the CBI, FSB, IoD and TUC all supportive in saying we have got to change the criteria.
The other thing linked to that is flexibility of funding. We obviously need to have significant amounts of funding coming in to underpin all of this but the more that funding can be devolved and the less red tape around that, the more that Treasury can minimise the criteria around it giving metro mayors to opportunity to shift from capital to revenue spend, under these circumstances would quiet a significant difference.
“So those are just two relatively small things that the Government could do, largely with the stroke of a pen, that would deliver of millions of pounds to the North of England.”
The mayor also said that investing in green technologies had to underpin everything that the North did to begin its process of recovery.
A Treasury Spokesman said: “A thriving northern economy is vital to our national economic success and will be crucial as we look to recover from the current coronavirus outbreak and level up the country.
“We want to see the whole of the North thriving and enjoying a good quality of life.
“That’s why we’ve allocated more than £13bn to improve transport in the North since 2015 and designated around half the £2.5bn Transforming Cities Fund to northern city regions. We are also doubling our nationwide investment in flood and coastal defences better protecting homes and businesses across the country.”
- Additional reporting by Robyn Vinter.