It had the tinge of pseudo self-government with a lot of EU money thrown in. There was the chance of a Northern renaissance and even our own regional mayor. Mr Osborne opened Pandora’s box and it has been argued over ever since.
Like Mr Osborne, all that seems now to be long gone. His words echo like the chant of Caesar’s ghost reminding us of what could have been. It seems that our metropolitan masters have lost the desire to help the North. Too busy fighting Brexit and undermining the democratic will of the people to be bothered about us who live in the upper shires. Is the North being punished for voting the wrong way in the referendum?
In my opinion, the original Northern Powerhouse concept was too vague. It was Labour’s “Northern Way agenda” – rehashed and rebranded – with a few add-ons to sweeten the pot. There was the enticing prospect of a new deal for the North based on transport, devolution, science, innovation and culture. This, it was hoped, would bring together the Northern cities as one development area.
In his speech at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum in June 2014, Mr Osborne said: “Here are the hard, economic facts. In the 19th and 20th centuries, a factory would be located where you could find raw materials, power, and cheap labour. Today, in a services-based economy, what investors are looking for is not a river to dam, but access to a deep pool of human capital.”
That “pool of human capital’ has been waiting for years for something to happen. In our county, we have a wealth of capable people just waiting for Government to get a plan together for our region. The North has more than its fair share of highly skilled, creative women and men to take on any task. Not just a deep pool, but an ocean of talent.
The hope that our Northern cities were sufficiently close to each other that they could take on the world seems to me to be a sad joke. If you have ever tried to get from Leeds to Manchester in rush hour, you need a miracle. Bottlenecks, pinch points and slow-moving traffic are just some of the problems to be faced on the M62. My all-thinking sat-nav told me the other week it would be quicker to take the A1 north, then go across on the A66 and down the M6 rather than try to get across the only coast-to-coast transport corridor.
It is still engraved in most of our minds that a problem with railway timetables nearly brought the North to a standstill last year, and things do not seem to be getting better.
There seems to be no appetite to devolve powers to the North. Why can’t we have a regional assembly for all the land north of the Humber and the Mersey? Then we could seriously get on with the business of powering up the North.
Any Northern Powerhouse has to include all of the major cities. It cannot just be focused on the car-clogged city of Manchester. Councils and politicians have to widen their view. There is no place for petty jealousies if we are to see the north of England prosper.
Like Brexit, a real and effective Northern Powerhouse has to be delivered by this Government. Whoever is the next Prime Minister, they have to get it right and give us a meaningful and workable concept for life in the North.
It has to start with a figurehead, someone committed to the task of making change happen. That someone has to be in the centre of Government. What is needed is not a part-time Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, or a Mayor for Sheffield, but a Secretary of State for the North. We need someone with real power and the desire to see lives changed for the better.
Gavin Williamson would be ideal for the job – a Scarborough lad with an understanding about what life in the North is really like.
Now is the time for something to be done. We have waited too long and our patience has been stretched beyond thinness. Like good little Northern serfs, we have worked hard and shut up. Again, Southern metropolitans are dictating our future prosperity and quality of life.
The prospect of a brighter future and a new Northern Powerhouse is too big a deal to be allowed to fizzle away – there has to be a Northern-centred approach to improving the economy of our region and it has to start now.
Brexit may be a big deal for Boris Johnson, but he has to remember that we in the North do not like politicians or political parties that take us for granted.
GP Taylor is an author and broadcaster. He lives in Whitby.