But as we roll out our vaccination programme, and get a grip on the spread of Covid, we will focus our efforts on reinvigorating the Northern economy, and replacing the jobs lost during the pandemic.
As Northern Powerhouse Minister, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far. £3.4bn of investment through northern Growth Deals. Almost half of the 100 UK towns to benefit from the £3.6bn Towns Fund are in the North. In the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced a new £4bn Levelling Up Fund to invest in local infrastructure projects.
And we’re continuing to devolve power. When West Yorkshire becomes a Combined Authority with a directly elected Mayor in May 2021, more than 60 per cent of the North will be represented by metro mayors – far more than any other area.
One of the best ways we can support the businesses is to boost the region’s infrastructure so it was great news that the Chancellor also announced a new National Infrastructure Bank headquartered in the North to galvanise investment.
Better transport is essential if we’re to tackle the prosperity divide, strengthening links within and across the region but also enhancing national links to and from the North.
That’s why the HS2 Bill for Phase 2a – taking the railway from the West Midlands to Crewe – currently going through Parliament is so important. Once passed, it will be the first time Parliament has confirmed backing for HS2 to reach the North. HS2 is a long-term investment which will bring our biggest cities closer together, boost productivity and provide a greener alternative to cars and planes for decades to come.
As the Prime Minister highlighted, Northern Powerhouse Rail is also vital to levelling up the North and there’s so much more investment going into northern transport. Earlier this year, the Government took over the Northern franchise to secure better, more reliable train services. In the past few weeks, the final, long outdated Pacer was retired, and last week, the 100th brand-new train made its maiden trip between Leeds and Chester.
Few outside the trainspotting community will mourn the disappearance of Pacers. Although they’ve travelled more than 300 million miles, they came to symbolise a lack of modernisation. Now the North has a train fleet befitting the region’s size and economic importance.
Elsewhere, we’re spending £589m on the TransPennine rail upgrade. We’re restoring other vital rail links through the Restoring Your Railway Fund, and soon we’ll introduce a new strategy for rail, replacing the failed franchise model.
We’ve also invested £11bn to improve Northern roads over the past five years. We’ve started work on the A19 upgrade six months ahead of schedule and the Spending Review announced an additional £146m to speed up the vital A66 dualling programme across the Pennines.
We’re rolling out the £4.2bn Local Public Transport programme so city regions can upgrade public transport and tackle road congestion. Our new Bus Strategy will help overhaul bus services. We’re working to extend cycling and walking infrastructure as part of a £2bn national programme.
We want to complete these projects as fast as possible so we’ve established the Northern Transport Acceleration Council to help unblock the pipeline of schemes most important to communities. We recently held our second full council meeting. Already, we are looking at a range of schemes to speed up progress.
Last week I also held a roundtable meeting with Northern business leaders to discuss how the Government and firms can work together to rebound from Covid.
Among many issues discussed were the need to improve skills and training; strong support for creating jobs in green industries; working with brilliant Northern universities to ensure that innovation is not lost to the South; the importance of transport investment; and the need to develop Humber as the ‘‘energy estuary’’ of the North.
Above all, there was agreement that developing the Northern Powerhouse means building a strong economy. It is business activity and inward investment that will create decent jobs and level up our country so that youngsters in Leeds and Liverpool enjoy the same opportunities as those in London.
And given the right conditions and investment, it is Northern councils, Northern businesses, Northern innovators and Northern people who will achieve these goals, not Whitehall. I couldn’t agree more. And after the miserable 2020 that the North has endured, I can’t think of a better way to toast the New Year.
Grant Shapps is the Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.