Mark Casci: Northern Powerhouse vision must be backed with action

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne at AMRC in Sheffield where he signed the  Northern Powerhouse  'gainshare' agreement which will see the city region rewarded for generating economic growth with up to �30 million of extra money every year for the next 30 years and a Sheffield city region combined authority with its own elected mayor.  2 October 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne at AMRC in Sheffield where he signed the Northern Powerhouse 'gainshare' agreement which will see the city region rewarded for generating economic growth with up to �30 million of extra money every year for the next 30 years and a Sheffield city region combined authority with its own elected mayor. 2 October 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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Close to five years have passed since the first concept of the Northern Powerhouse was floated by then chancellor George Osborne but it feels like a lifetime ago.

Designed as a scheme to empower Northern cities and businesses with a more integrated transport network and devolved powers to local leaders were warmly welcomed when first mooted in June 2014, albeit with a heavy dose of Northern scepticism.

There were notable early successes, with Transport for the North being created to mirror its London counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping lending the concept his backing and even a Cabinet minister position being created to oversee the process.

However today, the man who first announced the Northern Powerhouse to the world, turns fire on his former party’s commitment to the process.

Since the collapse of the Government led by David Cameron following the EU referendum result there have been serious concerns about the commitment of Theresa May’s Government to the North.

Today, ahead of the Great Northern Conference (the biggest gathering of Northern leaders in years) its architect will add his name, forcefully, to these concerns.

Mr Osborne said: “The Northern Powerhouse is suffering from a lack of vision from the government. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single original idea that has come out of this Downing Street to advance the Northern Powerhouse. So today I’m proposing some policy ideas that would breathe life back into this government’s claim that it supports the North.

“It’s time for some action.”

It is virtually impossible to find fault with Mr Osborne’s words.

It is tragic that so many of the concerns and fears that led such vast quantities of Northerners to support our exit from the EU could have been addressed in large measure by a genuine and purposeful commitment to restoring the North’s economy to its former glory.

However, the gargantuan effort required to extricate ourselves from our membership of the trading bloc has, without question, proved a colossal distraction from the day-to-day governance of our country.

The creation of the private Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) has the backing of a veritable who’s who of senior Northern business leaders.

It has acted an effective campaigning group, supporting the agendas of Northern business and local Government on a national scale. This has been evidenced time and time again, most notably on the fiasco seen with the disintegration of our transport network during last summer.

However, claims from senior Cabinet members that true empowering of the North must be led exclusively from the North are demonstrably risible. To borrow a phrase from one senior Northern local Government leader, you cannot pass the buck without passing the books.

Today, the former chancellor and the NPP lays out policy initiatives to help truly deliver the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

These include an extra £1bn a year from within the rising education budget for five years to reform pupil premium, more meaningful devolution to the North and significant investments in the North’s transport infrastructure to be signed off with urgency.

Such measures would be transformative to not just the nation but the North.

It would allow us to move on effectively from the arguments of the past which have created so much division and rancour between our countrymen and women and make us a more developed, integrated and federal nation that empowers local communities and prevents so many people feeling that they are being ignored or left behind.

The North is home to so many of the UK’s success stories.

From our cities to our countryside, the seeds of a highly evolved and modern economy are growing everywhere.

We now need the unequivocal backing of Westminster to make these seeds grow to their fullest potential and end the North-South divide once and for all.