TODAY is the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Northern Powerhouse.
It was more than a slogan, it was an idea, based in solid economic theory: if you better connect the communities of the North of England together, and give them more say over their future, then the whole will be much stronger than the individual parts.
The ambition was not just to increase prosperity and living standards, important as that is. The sights were set on achieving a rebalancing between North and South, and giving communities who felt neglected a feeling of control.
No one expected such a historic task to be achieved in the short-sighted time frame of most policy initiatives — and pressure group press releases — these days. It’s the work of a generation.
But as we mark the anniversary, we should note how much has been achieved.
Great metropolitan areas such as Manchester, Teesside, South Yorkshire and Merseyside now have powerful elected mayors to represent them.
Decisions previously taken hundreds of miles away in Whitehall are taken locally. Manchester, for example, has more control over the NHS than any city in Britain, including London. That means those running social care sit with hospital managers, treating patients as single human beings.
Powerful new bodies such as Transport for the North have been created, to force more of the choices and trade-offs inevitable in any transport network to be made by those who use the roads and railways affected.
Plans have been drawn up for transformational infrastructure, expanding HS2 by linking the cities of the North from east to west across the Pennines with new high-speed rail lines — a project called Northern Powerhouse Rail explicitly backed by Britain’s likely new prime minister, Boris Johnson.
Impressive national science projects have been initiated, like Graphene, based around universities that have pioneered the revival of northern cities.
Above all, the idea of northern civic leaders, public bodies and businesses working together to promote something bigger than just themselves is now entrenched. There is now real partnership behind the Northern Powerhouse.
Evidence of that is the Power Up the North Campaign, which more than 33 regional newspapers and websites have signed up to, including famous titles such as the Manchester Evening News and The Yorkshire Post.
The Evening Standard today supports the campaign too. Why should a newspaper and website based in London back more power in the North?
It’s simple: we live in one country. It’s hugely in the interests of the capital that our economy is more balanced, and that communities who have felt left behind have a share in our joint future.
We have to get away from the arrogance that nothing that happens outside the M25 matters. And if we are going to build this Northern Powerhouse, then, for all the achievements of the past five years, much more needs to be done.
There are still some northern areas without mayors. Transport for the North has nothing like the same powers as TfL. The presence of government departments is token. Northern Powerhouse Rail is an idea on paper, rather than a Budget-funded project.
So much more can be done to support the region’s great universities, science institutes and teaching hospitals.
We could have much greater fiscal devolution, not just to the North but across England — provided, of course, that those communities are given powers and are prepared to shoulder the responsibility for raising that money in taxes. The tax and spending powers given to Scotland in 2015 shows the way in what is possible.
All this requires three things.
First, a national government committed not just to the Northern Powerhouse brand but to its substance. That has stalled and needs to be revived.
Second, the North needs to embrace not just the opportunity but the compromise that comes from working together. Producing unaffordable shopping lists, and refusing to pay for them, perpetuates a pointless culture of grievance that won’t make anyone better off.
Finally, the whole country needs to get behind the project. It’s in all our interests that we power up the North, and build its powerhouse.