We finally received confirmation that HS2 will go ahead, which begins to deliver on the promise of ‘‘levelling up’’ the country, but we’ve also seen yet more flooding affect areas across the North, with the timing and effectiveness of the Government’s response coming under scrutiny.
After all that, it’s timely that myself and the rest of the Chairs of the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in the Northern Powerhouse 11 (NP11) have had opportunity to visit Parliament and outline our proposals for the upcoming Budget.
The recent Cabinet reshuffle has seen Simon Clarke MP take the role of Minister of State, with Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, taking the responsibility for Northern Powerhouse at Cabinet level.
In his messages after leaving his post, Jake Berry, the previous Northern Powerhouse Minister, referred to the Northern Powerhouse as a “foundation stone”. We certainly hope it will be front and centre of the Government’s levelling up policy, and will be using our combined voices as LEP chairs to strengthen and deliver the priorities needed to truly boost UK plc post-Brexit.
This week’s Budget will be under much scrutiny as not only is it this Government’s first, but it comes just weeks after Rishi Sunak replaced Sajid Javid as Chancellor and has already required repositioning to respond to the global spread of coronavirus.
Yet none of this should shift focus from the fact that it also needs to be a Budget for the North, with emphasis on key areas like clean growth, trade, innovation, transport and infrastructure and then education and training.
We are calling for a commitment to levelling up the economy to be a formal HM Treasury objective, with investment rules that recognise the need to prioritise spending where growth is needed most.
Clean growth in particular is an opportunity for the North to lead the way for the rest of the country, so our NP11 Budget proposal includes a £40m investment towards developing a Net Zero North clean energy programme.
Our region has the expertise and the willingness to work together – which I believe sets us apart from other regions in the UK – to create transformative projects across the North to add more than £2bn a year to the energy economy and create more than 100,000 new green jobs, as well as doing our bit to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.
A key area, particularly post-Brexit, is trade and investment and how the North can maximise its significant opportunities by closing productivity and growth gaps between our region and the rest of the UK, which have been allowed to fester for too long.
We are calling for a £67m investment over three years to enable us to raise exports to 30 per cent of the Northern Powerhouse’s GDP by 2030 as well as matching the rest of the UK’s average of 9.6 per cent of firms exporting, ending the North’s overreliance on domestic markets.
We also believe that the creation of a Northern Innovation Fund should be delivered to power up the entrepreneurial spirit of our region.
Meanwhile, HS2 must be integrated with Northern rail links and local transport investment to connect our individual towns, cities and communities. A transport budget for the North would let us fully deliver the Transport for the North plan, and to do this properly we need devolution of control – and shared accountability – for the region’s rail network.
Last year we hosted the Prime Minister at a major event in Rotherham, in partnership with Convention of the North, in which he announced the creation of a Northern Growth Body, saying: “What is needed most of all is local leadership, trusting people to take back control and lead as they want to.”
It’s right that our future should be led by the North and for the North, building outward from the partnerships, relationships, structures, and expertise that have already been established and which are working, but backed by real powers and real pounds to enable it to deliver maximum benefit.
The last couple of years have taken the Northern Powerhouse from narrative to action. Our collective challenge now is to take it from action to sustained impact.
Roger Marsh is chair of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and also NP11 which represents all LEPs in the Northern Powerhouse.