Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy has warned that the north risks missing out on crucial investment opportunities by talking the area down.
Speaking at a Barclays roundtable event he told assembled business leaders that speaking out about the challenges facing the north can be counterproductive.
Referencing the recent collapse of a devolution settlement for the North East he said: “Sometimes we let ourselves down from investor point of view.
“Too often political representatives stand up and tell me how grim it is in the north east and how awful life is.
“Well investors do use Google, and they do searches and look at what people say. This is a real issue, and if the only voices they hear is about how the Government hates the North East, and it is a used by some Yorkshire politicians, about how the Government hates the north or hates this particular part of north, we not helping ourselves.
“If they just say look how much London is doing, the fact is London is not doing much better in terms of quality of life, in environmental output or when it comes to buying a home. We have massive advantages and must be more positive about it.”
When asked by Barclays Head of North for Corporate Banking about how we could improve the region’s skill levels to make the north more attractive he said: “There are two elements; one is upskilling our own people to do these jobs.
If you employ someone local the retention is better. Graduate retention is a huge problem but the brain drain not just north to south, it is east to west. The quality of life issues are key to that and connectivity of transport makes a huge difference as people can get around. We also need to look at productivity. We have announced £2bn in productivity improvements and we will see where that leads in the coming months.
“There will be something on this in the industrial strategy but we should be able to make better use of what we have here. There is no easy answer.”
Tim Haldstead managing partner at law firm Shulmans, questioned if there was enough money to go around a wider region settlement that encompassed the whole of North, East and West Yorkshire.
Mr Percy said: “The devolution deal means you get extra money. The bigger populations get more money. What is more important is that the deal gives you the ability to borrow which is important and doesn’t exist at the moment. Plus it allows local authorities to pool cash they have already and there is big potential in that.”
Mr Percy added that the recent collapses in devolution deals for the North East and in Lincolnshire should serve as examples of how regions cannot try to alter the existing legislation for devolving powers.
“It has to be by consent,” he said. “The Greater Lincolnshire deal has collapsed after eight out of ten councils approved, two didn’t, and the whole thing came crashing down.
Sajid Javi and I have been more muscular. On the north east we not going to be messed around. You take what is on offer or you don’t get anything. The North East walked way from £500bn of extra money because they couldn’t agree.
“We were try and do a deal but it not as perfect in terms of economic geography as one for the whole of north east.”