‘Boris of the North’ needed to close gap with South

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THE North needs its own Boris Johnson if it is to secure the powers and funding it needs to close the economic gap with the prosperous South-East, according to a new report.

Yorkshire needs to work with its neighbours so a “single voice” for the North is heard in the corridors of power to match the lobbying of the London mayor, the IPPR North think-tank has claimed. Its report calls on northern leaders to join forces now to agree demands which can be put to the major parties before the next General Election and the major review of government spending expected in 2015.

Among its key recommendations is the Treasury agreeing so-called “earnback deals” that allow areas which are successful growing the local economy to keep more of the proceeds to be invested locally rather than seeing them go into the Government’s pockets. It also wants to see a much more powerful role for “combined authorities” such as those due to come into force covering South and West Yorkshire with York later this year.

The director of IPPR North, Ed Cox, said: “The Prime Minister used to talk about the public sharing in the proceeds of growth and that’s the same logic he should apply to cities in the North of England. Cities which have the greatest potential for growth also have the worst poverty and unemployment.

“An earn-back deal would provide an even greater incentive to invest in employment schemes which will not only finance growth, but will also help relieve poverty. Boosting northern prosperity would in turn boost national prosperity.

“The next Spending Review in 2015 provides an opportunity to reform how public spending is allocated and break the vicious cycle which promotes growth in London and shores up decline in the north.

“By 2015 there will be five combined authorities in the North which will be well placed to take on regional spending responsibilities and rebalance investment towards northern cities.”

The IPPR report echoes growing concerns that the North, represented by a patchwork of councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships, will increasingly struggle to make the case for Government cash in competition with a Mayor-led London where returns on investment are easier to demonstrate and the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales which speak with a single voice.

The IPPR report published today suggests council and business leaders from the North should hold a summit to agree their key priorities and elect a “northern chair” to co-ordinate their work. It also makes a raft of recommendations on the powers that could be exercised by combined authorities including much greater independence over tax and borrowing.

The Leeds and Sheffield city region groups of councils and authorities around the Humber have already negotiated city deals with Ministers that give them a bigger say in how Government money is spent. But many northern leaders feel they represent only a first step and more comprehensive devolution is needed if the North is to achieve its full potential.

Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan said: “The current relationship between Whitehall and the North is unsustainable. If we are going to achieve the level of integration and economic success people would like us to have we have got to be given the tools for the job and that means a devolution of powers to combined authority level.”

Mr Riordan said previous moves to create elected regional assemblies or city mayors failed to win support because they did not involve a significant shift of power.