PRIME Minister David Cameron has hit back at claims that his Government’s policies are hitting the North harder than the South, saying he wants to “set the fires of enterprise alight” in Yorkshire.
The Prime Minister, speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post in response to our Fair Deal for Yorkshire campaign, said the Government was working to rebalance the economy and that the region had done well out of policies such as enterprise zones and transport funding.
Mr Cameron has come under fire from business leaders, transport groups and local authorities who have argued more affluent areas of the South are enjoying preferential treatment.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers claimed the North has suffered years of chronic under- investment while KPMG has published statistics showing the jobs market is likely to contract sharply across the region over the coming 12 months.
Mr Cameron, who visited St James’s University Hospital in Leeds yesterday, said: “I don’t agree that we are disadvantaging Northern areas, urban areas, at all.
“The unemployment figures were obviously disappointing but I don’t think that it is right to simply say there is a straight North-South divide – actually, unemployment fell in Yorkshire but went up in the North-West.
“Now we obviously have a challenging picture in terms of unemployment but we are doing what we can – through enterprise zones, cuts in corporate taxes, deregulation, reform of the banking industry, the regional growth fund – all to try and set the fires of enterprise alight here in Yorkshire.”
The Fair Deal for Yorkshire campaign was launched after experts warned of a “two-nation recovery” from the recession, with research claiming the vast majority of private sector jobs being created were in the South.
Local authorities have warned that changes to their funding – where each town hall retains its own business rates, rather than the money going into a central pot and shared – will help councils in affluent areas with large business areas.
Earlier this month Labour published research that claimed changes to NHS funding would cost the region’s health trusts more than £100m, while the latest transport spending figures have shown there is four times the funding, per head of population, on infrastructure in London than in Yorkshire.
Mr Cameron said Yorkshire had done well out of the policies, citing the new enterprise zone in the Aire Valley.
“If you look at some of the specific policies, like the regional growth fund, they are targeted specifically at areas with high public sector employment,” he said. “The Yorkshire region has done well out of the regional growth fund and the enterprise zone policy, and obviously there is a large enterprise zone in the Yorkshire area, across four different sites.
“In terms of transport there are the improvements to the M62, Leeds rail station, the prospect of high-speed rail coming to Yorkshire – probably the biggest investment in trying to heal the North-South divide that any Government could make.”
The Prime Minister was also forced to defend the Government’s health policy after new figures published yesterday revealed the number of people enduring long waits for NHS treatment has jumped 61 per cent in one year. The data for England shows 11,857 people in June had been waiting more than six months for treatment, up from 7,360 in June 2010.
However there was some positive news for the Government as the Department of Health revealed the number of mixed-sex wards has hit a record low.