Northern Powerhouse Partnership welcomes prospect of change to Treasury spending rules

Business and political leaders have welcomed a suggestion that the Treasury's spending rules could be altered to help boost investment in the North as the Tories try to deliver for their newly-won voters.

Lord Jim O'Neil speaking at The Great Northern Conference 2019 at New Dock, Royal Armouries in Leeds. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Investment decisions would take into account improving people's wellbeing or narrowing the productivity gap with the South and focus less on overall national economic growth under plans reported by The Times.

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The proposals being considered ahead of the spring Budget would affect how officials work out the value for money of investments in transport, business development and other initiatives.Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stressed that the Conservatives must work hard to maintain the voters who may have "lent" their backing in order to implement Brexit.

Henri Murison. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The Tories' secured support in Labour's former heartlands in the North and the Midlands and the Prime Minister will be working to maintain the newfound voters.

According to Government documents, the Treasury's approach to investment currently follows a 'value for money' policy that aims to use "public resources in a way that creates and maximises public value" - which is "defined as the total well-being of the UK public as a whole".

This means that value for money is considered at a national level, not just in terms of how it will affect the local area in which a proposal operates, but The Times piece suggests a break from such policy under Mr Johnson's government.

Reacting to the news, Lord Jim O'Neill, Vice-Chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), said: "I have long since believed, going back to the earliest discussions about devolution when I led the Cities Growth Commission and through to my time at Treasury, that the static, accounting-based approach of value for money in assessing investment projects does not make any sense.

"By definition, it adds to the attraction of projects in heavily-populated, economically-vibrant areas - usually London - and doesn't allow for potential major productivity-enhancing projects elsewhere, including many in the North, and especially Northern Powerhouse Rail.

"I truly welcome a change to this approach, and hope it is for real. It would be a huge boost for many investments across the country, as well as throughout the Northern Powerhouse."

Henri Murison, NPP director, added: "The New Year promises to be a positive one for Northern Powerhouse if the Budget is as positive for economic rebalancing as this and other recent signs.

"It will be a testament to having those like Rishi Sunak MP as Chief Secretary at the Treasury, who understand the importance of closing the North-South divide both economically and politically for his own party's long term prospects once Brexit and Labour's leadership are less of a concern in voter's minds."

A Treasury spokesperson said: "We work across Government to ensure investment is focused on where it is needed across the UK and delivers value for money for the taxpayer."