Ministers ‘lack vision’ for the North, says Osborne

George Osborne, the former Chancellor, is the architect of the Northern Powerhouse.
George Osborne, the former Chancellor, is the architect of the Northern Powerhouse.
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Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne today launches a scathing attack on Downing Street, accusing the Government of showing a “lack of vision” on how best to empower the North.

Mr Osborne claimed that the Government had failed to come up with a “single idea” as to how to advance the Northern Powerhouse movement he founded and spelt out a series of policy

George Osborne speaks ahead of the inaugural Great Northern Conference in Leeds today.

George Osborne speaks ahead of the inaugural Great Northern Conference in Leeds today.

initiatives which he said could help narrow the North-South divide.

Speaking ahead of a major conference in Leeds today, Mr Osborne – who first developed the Northern Powerhouse concept – said that Ministers have failed to capitalise on significant levels of business backing on areas such as education and transport.

Mr Osborne, who now chairs the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), laid out a series of policy measures which he said could help breath new life into the Northern Powerhouse project, including raising education standards for under-performing schools, completing devolution across all areas of the North and a firm, unequivocal commitment on high speed rail links across the region.

His comments come after new research showed that two-thirds of secondary schools teaching the most disadvantaged pupils in the country who make the slowest educational progress are in the North, with white working-class boys the most at risk of falling behind.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single original idea that has come out of this Downing Street to advance the Northern Powerhouse.

George Osborne

As a remedy, the NPP and Mr Osborne propose a ‘Northern Schools Challenge’ which would reform the pupil premium initiative by spending an extra £1bn a year on achievement levels for the most disadvantaged children. They also recommend establishing a Northern Schools Board which would have the power to take over failing academy chains.

In the Next Steps for the Northern Powerhouse document, there are also calls for:

A firm financial commitment to the big infrastructure, especially high-speed rail across the North from Liverpool to Hull by 2033.

Complete devolution with mayors covering all major urban areas of the North.

Allowing the North to pilot road user charging to raise £8bn to pay for much-needed local transport improvements.

A £250m housing fund to build new garden and urban villages around key areas, such as Manchester Airport and Bradford.

The roll-out of fibre to the premises of every business and home in the top 30 northern towns and cities by 2025.

Speaking ahead of today’s Great Northern Conference, Mr Osborne said: “Five years on from the Northern Powerhouse being launched, our idea continues to get stronger and stronger.

Calls for school revamp

Calls for school revamp

“We have devolved mayors, new science centres and better infrastructure. Above all, Northern communities and businesses understand that by working together the whole of the North can be stronger.

“But 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.”

The Government hit back at George Osborne’s accusations that Ministers have failed to capitalise on moves to transform the North’s economy and living standards.

A spokesman was adamant the North is “thriving”, with a record number of people in work and over 200,000 more businesses than in 2010.

He added: “Our £3.4bn support for the Northern Powerhouse will continue to boost economic growth, and we’ve dedicated a record £13bn for transport improvements, meaning almost £250 per person – more than any other region – will be invested next year to help northern commuters and motorists.”