IT was once said that ‘Yorkshire is a kingdom in miniature’, and the same could be said about the North as a whole. The epicentre of the Industrial Revolution – which changed the world – was here. We Northerners are industrious, inventive and our friendliness is legendary.
Almost 15 million people live here. If we were an independent country, we would be the ninth largest in the European Union. We have enormous potential. But we have been held back by decision-makers whose horizon doesn’t extend beyond London.
I find it especially galling that the Government has not risen to the challenge of One Yorkshire. I recently spoke to the Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire. He is a decent man, but he has stubbornly failed to listen to Northern voices.
The Yorkshire Post, in its understated but powerful way, has said the Northern Powerhouse needs ‘fresh impetus’, and the attendees of last week’s Great Northern Conference came to the same conclusion.
I couldn’t agree more. But let me be honest: I do not agree with George Osborne placing himself front and centre of the campaign for Northern renewal.
He publicly accused the Government of a ‘lack of vision’.
This is of course true, but when Osborne was in a position to deliver for the North, as Chancellor, he instead imposed crippling austerity, which affected the North much more severely than other parts of the country.
You don’t need to take my word for it; many of you experienced it. But let’s look at the figures. In its latest report, IPPR North show that since 2009/10 total public spending in the North has fallen by £6.3bn in real terms – more than any other region, while the South East and South West together received a £3.2bn rise in public spending during this period.
This is Osborne’s legacy. The architect of ‘Northern Austerity’ should have no place in delivering Northern prosperity.
But this isn’t about the now esteemed editor of the London Evening Standard. Let’s start with transport and education – two key topics of the Conference last week.
The North received £289 per head on transport, while London received £708 per head on average; and £4,155 transport spending per capita is planned on London, compared to just £1,600 per capita planned on the North.
Meanwhile, approximately £1,000 more per year is spent on a child’s education in London than in the North.
Investment in these areas is desperately needed, and it is encouraging that so many of the North’s leaders agree on this.
But this will only scratch the surface. The challenges our Northern communities face are deeply rooted.
The biggest challenge is the structural imbalances of our economy, which is dominated by a bloated finance sector, which sucks investment away from the regions.
The UK is the most geographically-imbalanced economy in Europe, with London having a disproportionately large share of the UK’s growth.
According to the ONS, for 2017 Gross Value Added per head for London was £47,705, whereas in Yorkshire and the Humber, that figure is just £21,748. In the North East it is lower still.
Clearly inequality in this country has a spatial quality, with the regions falling further behind London.
I am not suggesting that people in the North are victims, but it’s we’ve been let down by successive Westminster governments.
We are demanding only what we deserve.
And this can only be delivered by a transformational government, with ambitions that match the size of the challenge. We are proposing:
A new political settlement for the country, with a radical devolution that hands power to the regions. The North’s renewal has to be led by people in the North.
Regional investment banks and a new industrial strategy, to ensure businesses neglected by the London-centric economy can better provide to the communities they serve.
A National Education Service, so our Northern schools aren’t reliant on occasional hand-outs from Westminster governments, but are instead part of a national and permanent movement for educational transformation.
But this is just the start. In my role leading Labour’s preparation for government, I will ensure that consideration of the regions of this county, especially the North, is front and centre.
My own personal view is that alongside One Yorkshire, we need a powerful Council of the North speaking up for the region to deliver social justice and a strong economy.
New regional institutions should not be the same old top-down structures.
It’s the voices of those that are often ignored that most need to be heard, and this is long overdue.
Jon Trickett is the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. He is also the Labour MP for Hemsworth.