Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of offering “friendly language” but little substance about what he means by tackling regional imbalances in remarkable exchanges with one of his most senior backbenchers.
The Prime Minister left Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the powerful Treasury Select Committee, exasperated after he was quizzed about how he will actually judge whether the economy is being “rebalanced”.
When speaking on the economy, Mr Cameron has repeatedly stated a desire to make it less reliant by geography on London and the South-East and by sector on financial services.
But during a lengthy exchange in front of other Select Committee chairmen, who form the Liaison Committee to question the Prime Minister on occasion, Mr Tyrie was unable to discover what the Government means behind the rhetoric.
The fact that even senior members of his own party are unclear about how a rebalancing will be achieved will add to concern among critics of the Government’s regional policy.
Visibly frustrated, Mr Tyrie said: “Prime Minister, you have talked about the need for ‘a massive rebalancing of our economy’ and you have said that Local Enterprise Partnerships play an ‘absolutely key role’ in bringing that about.
“When I have asked you on a whole raft of issues what that actually means, I cannot say, beyond friendly language about rebalancing the economy, that we have had much of substance.
“You are not saying, ‘OK, I want to see income differentials narrowed between the regions,’ for example, or ‘I want to see more jobs created in the north, even though I recognise that will mean fewer jobs in the south’.”
Mr Cameron responded: “I said that I wanted to see income disparities reducing rather than increasing, and I said that we want to deal with unemployment blackspots in the north of England. I made both those points.”
Finally making progress, Mr Tyrie said: “So a rebalanced economy between the regions would be one in which the income disparity between, say, the North-East and London is less than it is now.”
Mr Cameron replied: “Over the past decade, the disparity has been widening, and I would like to see that disparity narrow.”