We have inspiring museums, world-class sports grounds and some of the most exciting music venues and festivals in the country.
The North is richly diverse, encompassing industrial towns, coastal resorts and former pit villages. Parts of the North are wealthy, parts are undergoing rapid change, and parts remain poor by just about any measure.
A triple whammy of industrial decline, austerity and Covid have not been kind to many of our towns and communities, and it shows.
Although some parts of the North can match the best in the world for innovation and business, there are too many that continue to struggle with high levels of deprivation and worklessness.
If you live in Barnsley, you’re much more likely to be hungrier, poorer and sicker than someone living in Belgravia.
This deep-seated inequality is a moral disgrace, and it’s holding the whole of our country back.
Few would disagree that levelling up is long overdue. It was an integral part of the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto — and why voters in the North put their faith in this Government, many for the first time.
The Prime Minister and I agree about the need to level up the North, but where we differ is how to deliver that transformation to benefit our Northern communities.
Currently, the Government’s approach seems to be more slogan than substance.
So far, we’ve seen the reworking of a few existing budget lines, the planned move out of London of a couple of government offices, the release of two dodgy lists of ‘‘priority areas’’ and frankly, not a lot else.
Its ‘‘plan’’ seems to roughly consist of forcing local administrations to compete against each other for piecemeal, limited and unreliable pots of cash. What’s more, any local authority can compete for this cash – even wealthy ones from the South East.
All the while, major UK-level interventions like Northern Powerhouse Rail and delivering HS2 in full hang in the balance. This fragmentation and uncertainty make proper, long-term, strategic planning nigh on impossible.
That’s why Ros Jones, the Mayor of Doncaster Council, Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council, and I have come together and commissioned the Plan for the North, because that’s what our communities need.
A plan to really put us on a level playing field with the more affluent areas. That means there must be a coherent strategy, that’s locally led and backed up by long-term, reliable and transformative investment.
But levelling up shouldn’t just be about investing in our infrastructure or getting a bigger slice of the pie, it should be about building growth that leaves no one behind.
At the moment, too many of us feel remote from the decisions that affect our lives.
Policies that affect us are crafted in Whitehall; a government that’s meant to work for us is based in Westminster; and the big corporations that employ us aren’t even based in the UK at all.
When there is such remoteness, we risk becoming a statistic, a letter in a newspaper, a line in a spreadsheet. Too many people are too disconnected from those in power.
That’s one of the big arguments for devolution.
In South Yorkshire, devolution has helped us start a transformation. It’s allowed us to take control, use our local understanding to find creative solutions to our problems, and increase the urgency and ambition of our policies.
We’re not waiting for Westminster, because we can’t afford to. Already we’ve channelled hundreds of millions of pounds into a transport strategy that works for everyone and the planet, and we’ve agreed half a billion more for a regional renewal plan.
We’re using our own money and our own powers to renew our region. We’re helping young people into education and work with much cheaper bus fares.
We’re making those vital qualifications and skills more accessible now that we control the adult education budget.
We’re promoting co-operatives and worker ownership – because it’s good for businesses and employees. We’ve also invested millions in our bus network to make improvements now while we wait for government funding to kick in.
Time and time again, we’ve shown our potential, but much of that will be unfulfilled until we are trusted with greater powers and responsibility. That’s especially important in the battle to ‘‘level up’’ our country.
We need the Government to work with us to build on what we’re already good at. They must support us to develop our manufacturing sector and protect it from unfair competition from overseas.
They must invest in greener industries to bring new jobs. A strong economy is vital across the North so people with much-needed skills stay here.
The North deserves a New Deal, on a scale that we’ve never seen before. It’s time to look to a brighter future for the North, one that’s stronger, greener and fairer.
We deserve a proper strategy, we deserve transformational, reliable spending, and we deserve to have a real say in how we’re ‘‘levelled up’’.
A proper plan, driven by Northern leaders and Northern communities.
Our plan is a step towards realising that ambition.
* Dan Jarvis is the Sheffield City Region mayor and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.
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