Time to take North’s mayors seriously over virus and devolution – Jake Berry

IT has been a seismic week for the North of England. Sadly, but rightly, we have seen large parts of the North entering Tier 3 restrictions to cope with rising Covid cases and hospital capacity.

Jake Berry is the former Northern Powerhouse Minister.
Jake Berry is the former Northern Powerhouse Minister.

We have seen the power of Northern mayors come to the fore. And we have seen devolution catapulted to the 
top of the political agenda in a
way we have rarely seen 
before.

While the most severe restrictions were inevitable, there has to be an exit 
strategy. A way for those businesses forced to close or face drops in trade, communities and families locked down and economies flatlining to see
a light at the end of the tunnel, and a way of rebuilding once again.

Tier 3 restrictions, and the money that the Government has provided to support them, cannot carry on indefinitely while we wait in hope for a vaccine and rapid mass
testing.

Jake Berry, the then Northern Powerhouse Minister, during a visit to Leeds in January with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The Government this week has been forced to listen to 
local leaders in the North. 
The information vacuum 
coming from Number 10 has allowed high-profile Labour leaders to seize the advantage, and make great political capital from the dithering from Ministers.

The responsibility for this lies with government – its communications and leadership has been sorely missing in these high-stakes negotiations.

It is vital that they listen to leaders on the ground. As well as figures like Andy Burnham and Dan Jarvis, this includes the huge swathe of Blue Wall Conservatives who have been working flat out to ensure 
their constituents are protected and prioritised at this time of crisis.

One thing I think should be done as an absolute priority is to be fully transparent with the British people.

Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse Minister, has accused Boris Johnson of not listening to the North.

People are telling me they want to see full and clear data shared with them in a simple and understandable way.

The restrictions and what people can do are not clear at all, and neither is the rationale for them. This has to improve and quickly.

The Northern Research Group (NRG) has been set up to represent the needs of Northern people, and to hold the Government to account on their commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. This has been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.

We have 80 MPs in the 
North – a clear sign that voters were tired of Labour. They wanted real change and we
want to give it to them. We
know we were voted in on our promise to deliver levelling-up. It’s about time we were listened to.

But let’s not kid ourselves that we lived in a fair, balanced country even before Covid struck. Our schools, our 
health, our transport network, the prospect of getting a
good job, are all barriers to success.

We need a recovery plan
from Covid for the whole
of the North, not only creating jobs to replace those that will sadly be lost, but jobs to
kickstart the Northern 
economy, create a more 
balanced UK and driving the levelling-up agenda.

We will hear today from many of the North’s leading political and business leaders today at the Great Northern Conference, on these key topics and many others.

The North can be leaders in decarbonisation, with carbon capture and storage, a fleet of small modular reactors and hydrogen for transport and domestic heating.

We can connect our great cities and towns with high
speed rail, starting work
early to not only create greater capacity on the railway but also stimulate growth and investment.

We can address one of the most significant factors in the North-South divide, that of relatively poor levels of educational attainment, with targeted support for the most Northern pupils in left behind areas.

And we can take power
out of Whitehall and into the North.

The best way to achieve this is to deliver on the promise the Prime Minister made last year to deliver full devolution for the North.

It’s time to take power out of Whitehall and put it back into the North, allowing locally-elected leaders to have more
of a say in how their areas are run.

Only then will we fully achieve the levelling-up agenda which can make such a difference to people’s lives.

Jake Berry is a Conservative MP and former Northern Powerhouse Minister. He now heads the Northern Research Group of MPs.

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Editor