In a Budget supposedly for Millennials and first-time buyers, as the Government belatedly tried to court those younger voters wooed by Labour during the election, Philip Hammond did little to convince families here that this was a Budget for Yorkshire.
One announcement said it all. A specific commitment by the Chancellor to progress the “funding and financing” for Crossrail 2 in London while the North gets a new £35m – political scraps – to improve digital connectivity on trans-Pennine services which are so overcrowded that it is simply impractical for passengers to open their laptops and do some work.
Here was a chance for Mr Hammond to say that high-speed rail linking the North’s great cities would have, at the very least, the same status as London’s proposed new railway. Instead, it shows the extent to which the Northern Powerhouse has been marginalised since its architect, George Osborne, left the Treasury.
In fairness to the current Chancellor, he’s not the sole person to blame. Yorkshire – and the North – has certainly not received a fair deal from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, and others, who still don’t grasp the key link between infrastructure investment and prosperity.
Yorkshire’s Conservative MPs – including junior Treasury minister Andrew Jones – are certainly less effective than their Scottish colleagues when it comes to utilising their influence while future policies, like the Transforming Cities Fund, will prioritise and reward those areas which have embraced metro-mayors or plan to do so. The longer this area’s devolution deadlock persists, the more its people will miss out.
The Budget document says it all – six mentions for Leeds, and two for Sheffield compared to 13 and six respectively for Manchester and Liverpool which do now have directly-elected mayors. Furthermore one cursory reference to Yorkshire (with regard to falling unemployment) contrasted with 18 mentions for Wales and 13 apiece for both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
If this doesn’t spur political, business and civic leaders from across this region to come up with a definitive devolution plan which empowers Yorkshire, then they will only have themselves to blame if future Budgets also pay ‘lip service’ to God’s own county.
After all, the record number of people now in work, and Mr Hammond’s conscious decisions to invest in young people and provide some short-term financial relief for the NHS, masks a significant fall in Britain’s projected economic growth as a fighting fund is set up to prepare for Brexit.
Ten years after the global financial crash brought the North to a virtual standstill, the private sector is going to require every possible assistance to maintain the pace of regeneration in Yorkshire’s towns and cities in the coming years.
Though the transformation has been significant, it is modest in comparison to the rate of rejuvenation in London and the South East where investment in public transport has clearly been the catalyst for growth and prosperity – the reason why The Yorkshire Post has been, and will continue to be, so critical of the aforementioned Transport Secretary’s poor record.
If Britain is to be fit for the future, the central theme of Mr Hammond’s Budget, it requires the Northern Powerhouse becoming the engine room of Britain’s economy rather than the afterthought that it has become in recent times.