Mark Casci: The next Prime Minister simply has to deliver for the North

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A bout of illness confined me to my bed for much of last week.

I picked a hell of a week to become unwell, given that the Power Up the North campaign had been given its full and official launch.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 12: Boris Johnson launches his Conservative Party leadership campaign at the Academy of Engineering on June 12, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 12: Boris Johnson launches his Conservative Party leadership campaign at the Academy of Engineering on June 12, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Ran jointly across more than 30 of the North of England’s newspapers, the campaign served to put all of the Conservative leadership race hopefuls on notice.

It was made unequivocally clear that whoever our next Prime Minister turns out to be, he will have to pay far, far more attention to delivering on the promises contained in the Northern Powerhouse concept.

This in theory should not prove too taxing. After all, the Theresa May led Government did next to nothing to advance the concept.

It broke promises left, right and centre on transport infrastructure improvements and allowed Chris Grayling, among the least effectual individuals to hold high office, to preside over the Department for Transport.

Date: 21st May 2019.'Picture James Hardisty.'YP Magazine.......Ravenscar, near between Whitby and Scarborough.

Date: 21st May 2019.'Picture James Hardisty.'YP Magazine.......Ravenscar, near between Whitby and Scarborough.

On virtually every measurable matrix the North South divide is growing, not shrinking and vibrant and rich economies in our cities and towns are operating with one hand tied behind their back due to hideously unfit for purpose infrastructure and skill shortages.

From my sick bed I was heartened to see how much traction Power Up the North was attracting.

Myself and the team on the business desk approached dozens upon dozens of business leaders in advance of its launch to canvas their backing. The response we received was close to unanimous, with many more bosses coming forward to attach their names to the drive. I pay tribute to them all.

The message it seems is already showing signs of having got through to those rushing to grab the keys to Number 10. Several of the hopefuls issued statements within 24 hours pledging a raft of policies to focus on the North.

In the televised debates the likes of Rory Stewart have mentioned rebalancing the economy as a priority.

Even Boris Johnson, the likely winner, issued support for the North (although his aspirations of leadership do not apparently extend to his having the courage to allow the Press or his opponents the opportunity to scrutinise his record or candidacy).

Although Brexit dominates the race, the reality is that next Government’s attitude towards the North of England will be of far greater importance.

The next Prime Minister is going to face the same Parliamentary arithmetic, stonewall attitude from Europe and populist pressure as Mrs May did.

No matter who emerges on top in July, a general election is likely to be on the cards very soon and, as we have seen in the last three elections, the North is where the battle will be won and lost.

Yorkshire in particular is home to many marginal seats.

Faced with a staunchly left-wing Labour party with a formidable campaigning apparatus, a resurgent Liberal Democrats and the Brexit party, the Conservative party’s only hope of returning to power lies in staying true to its One Nation dogma.

If it fails to back the North and its 15 million people it faces opposition and letting Corbyn into Number 10, a scenario that business will shudder at and one which could see it locked out of power for a generation.

An early commitment to a Northern Powerhouse cabinet minister, one equipped with meaningful powers, would be a strong start to making sure this does not occur.

An unequivocal and rigidly timetabled programme of state-of-the-art transportation upgrades should be established urgently.

And far greater devolution to local level should be enacted so that our local leaders can begin addressing the chronic skill shortages we face in our workforce. A twenty point gap in terms of employees being educated beyond A Levels between Yorkshire and London currently exists. This needs to shrink at a rapid rate.

These measures will benefit the whole nation, making it more prosperous and dynamic. Failing to deliver will be a crime against the UK.

The next Prime Minister must deliver or face the same oblivion as Mrs May.