BUSINESS LEADERS are looking for signs of “tangible progress” on the Government’s ‘northern powerhouse’ project when the Chancellor delivers his Budget next week.
George Osborne is facing growing calls to use the Budget make specific commitments on projects designed to drive economic growth in the North.
Transport for the North (TfN), the body commissioned by the Government to draw up plans to transform transport in northern England, this week set out proposals for projects including high speed trans-Pennine rail, a tunnel connecting Manchester to South Yorkshire and Smart North, a ticketing system allowing passengers to use their credit cards and mobile phones to access public transport.
Better transport connections are seen as central to the Chancellor’s ‘northern powerhouse’ plan to connect the North’s towns and cities so together they can compete on the world stage.
Business groups now want to see evidence in the Budget that the Government is moving from commissioning studies to putting projects into action.
Chris Hearld, northern chairman for business advisory giant KPMG and part of the Business North group, said none of the projects in the TfN report were scheduled to happen in the near future and he would “love to see something happen to bring that timetable forward.”
He added: “It would be really great to see in the Budget signs of tangible progress in bringing the northern powerhouse to life.
“That is the key challenge for him, to demonstrate he is following through on what he has said and the challenge for us is to respond and demonstrate it is the right thing to do.
“I think it is really important that business keeps the momentum up by making the point this part of the world has the potential to deliver.”
West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Peter Box called for “a commitment from Government to the sustained effort and focus that will make these projects a reality”.
He continued: “We also want to see Transport for the North taking a long hard look at the road network in the north, in the same way it has done for rail.
“We suspect that longer term solutions need to be found to the congestion on the M62 and M1, if they are not to hold back economic growth”
“This is particularly important for Leeds City Region - with a £60bn economy and a population of 2.8 million, Leeds City Region’s is the largest regional economy outside London, making it central to the success of the government’s Northern Powerhouse project.
“We need Government to prove its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and deliver infrastructure projects that has been previously put to the top of the priority list - such as the upgrade of the trans-Pennine rail route and electrification of other routes such as the Calder Valley line through Bradford and Halifax and the line to Harrogate and York.”