Speaking at the event, Tom Riordan, the chief executive of Leeds City Council, was determined to put people straight. “If anyone thought the Northern Powerhouse initiative was something that belonged to David Cameron and George Osborne, and that if they go it goes, I have to say I believe the opposite.”
Good for him. It’s not enough to simply take on board the model the outgoing Chancellor was attempting to impose upon us. Anyone who looked closely at Mr Osborne’s notion of a “Northern Powerhouse” could see that it was riven with flaws. His idea of what the North is, for a start, was predicated entirely from a metropolitan point of view. Frankly, I always wondered if he understood that there was more to the North than Manchester. He’s on his way now though. The time has come to take control of the Northern Powerhouse and to do it our way.
I have the greatest respect for civic leaders and the businessmen and women who must work alongside them. However, we need to look further than council meeting rooms and spreadsheets if the North of England is to become a proper resurgent force. First of all, we need to find pride in ourselves again.
The EU referendum result did not exactly paint our part of the country in inclusive glory. We can’t ignore the fact that many of us do have issues with certain elements of immigration, but we should also talk about how we have long made multi-culturalism work. In cities such as Bradford, Sheffield and Leeds for instance, there are families who came from all over the world to find work and a new life, and their roots go back generations. Let’s not allow present-day concerns to destabilise our established communities. If we are divided, we cannot be strong.
And this is the perfect opportunity for our region to show just how strong it is. In a nation which is struggling to find an identity, everyone’s voice should be equal. Those who purported to lay down all the laws from Westminster have shown themselves up as the cowardly, self-seeking individuals we always suspected they were.
Although plans for regional devolution need careful consideration, time and scrutiny, this shouldn’t stop us sticking up for ourselves. In a world which has been turned upside down, our regional voice is as good as anyone else’s. If we are redefining the boundaries of what England now is, then the North should play a leading part. Here is a chance to redraw the map.
Whoever ends up running the country by this autumn, there are certain infrastructure matters which cannot be side-lined. Key to this is connectivity – HS2 to improve journey times between our region and the capital; HS3 between Manchester and Leeds; work on the M62 and, just as importantly, the proposals to enhance ease of transport between towns and cities to bring areas which have suffered economic blight towards prosperity. The next occupants of Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street cannot shy away from this.
However, it’s not just about roads and rail links. While transport is vital for economic success, the Northern Powerhouse envisaged by Osborne failed to grasp the myriad issues affecting businesses in our region. Yes, we need the big companies, the logistics operators, the banks and the legal firms.
We also need support to bring on the next generation of entrepreneurs, and this should start in our schools. Too many of our educational establishments are still not coming up to the national mark. Yet how many ministers have actually looked at the skills and knowledge which are needed to create local prosperity? I’m not advocating a separate educational agenda for Yorkshire, but I would like to see wider implementation of more practical, hands-on learning, especially for our 14 to 19-year-olds.
I would also like the new Northern Powerhouse to acknowledge the very significant contribution arts and culture plays in our identity. In Yorkshire, we also have some of the best countryside, coastal towns and sporting and leisure amenities available anywhere in the world.
We have a chance today to really shout up for our region. So let’s not let the Northern Powerhouse dream die, but relaunch it on our terms.