Unlike this Government, at least Boris Johnson’s administration was more ambitious for the North - Henri Murison

Today at the Convention for the North, both Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Angela Rayner will be here in Leeds to make their pitch to the North.

However, after the government press release, to announce the Cabinet meeting in Goole, claimed that a few new bus stations or electric charging points would by themselves transform the Northern economy, I am downhearted. The North is facing a Cabinet who collectively don’t all share the ambition of the Levelling Up White Paper, of which Gove was author-in-chief.

Looking back to Boris Johnson, who came to the Convention before the 2019 election and who, despite his faults, led an administration which was undoubtedly more ambitious for the North.

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Looking forward to an election which Labour have a huge poll lead for, but risk getting caught in an anti-investment trap in the next Parliament due to our current arbitrary fiscal rules. These dictate that debt must be falling at the end of five years, incentivising short-termism and ignoring the long-term dangers of chronic underinvestment in everything from the railways to improving children’s health which will cumulatively increase debt levels for decades.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a cabinet meeting at Siemens Mobility factory in Goole. PIC: Paul Ellis/PA WirePrime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a cabinet meeting at Siemens Mobility factory in Goole. PIC: Paul Ellis/PA Wire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a cabinet meeting at Siemens Mobility factory in Goole. PIC: Paul Ellis/PA Wire

It is underinvestment which has contributed to the UK’s mammoth productivity divide, which has in turn driven the £8,400 wage gap between London and the North.

That said, there is also much to celebrate: our world-leading innovation clusters from Cheshire’s Alderley Park to the Helix in Newcastle, our burgeoning green economies from the Mersey to the Mersey, and our Metro Mayors who are transforming the political landscape.

Transforming the Northern economy means unlocking this potential.

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On transport, that means getting on with building Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, following the welcome news that Bradford and Hull are back on the route, re-starting work on the tunnel link between Piccadilly and Manchester Airport to get trains from Leeds to Liverpool. It also means delivering electrification to Sheffield, re-opening the Leamside Line in the North East alongside transformational local schemes like mass transit in West Yorkshire.

Secondly, we need to tackle the long-standing regional inequalities in education and skills outcomes, ensuring people here are equipped to access well-paid jobs and opportunities, while businesses can access the talent they need.

Third, we need to unleash innovation-led growth, increasing the North’s share of public investment in research and development funding to bring it in line with the Golden Triangle in the South East in the next decade.

Fourth, we need to take the lead in the UK’s net zero transition and get the economic transformation that comes with it, with public investment to leverage private funding for roll out of small modular reactors (SMRs) for instance.

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Lastly, we need to build on the standout success of the Northern Powerhouse to date – devolution.

Whether it was Michael Heseltine transforming Liverpool, John Prescott with the Northern Way, or George Osborne with the Northern Powerhouse, we have seen a number of real and credible plans over the years. The Northern Powerhouse built on the best of what had come before it, and abandoned by this government, it has more support here than their pale imitation.

It's not too late to change the current course of economic failure; an overly centralised country with just rhetoric, without any actual transformation. Never mind who was, or is, heir to Blair. I want an heir to Prescott or Osborne.

Henri Murison is chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

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