George Osborne: 'Playing to our strengths makes North unbeatable'

George Osborne.
George Osborne.
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On the eve of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, this is a critical time for the North of England.

The Yorkshire Post says: It's time to back plans for HS3 rail line

All we have to do in the North is two simple things that any football manager would recognise: play to our strengths and play as a team.

We have to work out what our economy is best at and then work together to deliver it. Do that and we will raise people’s living standards and make people feel more connected to the economy of the whole country.

Today, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership which I chair sets out the plan to play to our strengths and work together. In Burnley this morning, we are launching an ambitious and visionary report – Powerhouse 2050: The North’s Routemap for Productivity.

Produced after detailed consultation with more than 500 businesses of all sizes, universities and a wide range of other interest groups, the report addresses the critical issue of how productivity can be increased and what bold, innovative measures can be put in place to create jobs and encourage inward investment. It is an economic plan devised in the North, by the North and for the North.

Ahead of the Autumn Budget, the report provides a plan for what the Government can do to raise productivity in the North – the key to raising living standards and prosperity. There are a range of specific proposals for using the money the Government has already set aside for funding innovation, such as investing £40m to develop the Sheffield Child Health Technology Centre here in Yorkshire.

But this report is not about government funding alone – it needs the full support and backing of Northern businesses and civic leaders to make it a reality. That is where our Northern Powerhouse Partnership can play a pivotal role, as we bring both together in one organisation.

Take the exciting proposal to replace the gas supply to Leeds with low-carbon hydrogen, produced in the Tees Valley. This will require around £2bn of funding, with a significant proportion being provided by business to create a viable carbon capture and storage scheme.

The benefits are clear – a cost-effective carbon reduction programme to help the UK meet its Paris 2050 obligations, a thriving industry in the North and the potential to roll it out across the region as part of a sustainable, low carbon future.

This potential for bringing the North together to increase its contribution to the UK economy was why I, as Chancellor, championed the idea of the Northern Powerhouse – based on a sound economic footing to create a more balanced economy.

My commitment to this vision is as firm now as it was when I was in government. There are areas of outstanding expertise in the North, unparalleled in the rest of the UK and rivalling the best cities and centres in the world – like the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, nuclear engineering in Cumbria, green energy in Hull, life-sciences in Newcastle and tropical medicine research in Liverpool.

Our wide and varied consultation took us to more than 20 venues across the North, more than a third of which were in Yorkshire. The participants came from different sectors but there were several areas they all agreed on; the most notable being transport – sort out the connectivity between our great cities of the North, and it will make it much easier for the rest to follow, was the general gist.

Last month we launched our first campaign for the government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – the transformational scheme to reduce journey times and increase services east-west across the North of England, linking up our cities to attract more business and create more jobs. Journeys from Leeds to Manchester would take 30 minutes, revolutionising both commuting and social travel and creating large economic centres for companies to grow and flourish.

NPR would bring 58,000 businesses within 45 minutes of two or more of our largest cities, while 10 times the number of highest skilled workers will be able to access four or more Northern cities within 75 minutes.

These figures show why NPR is so badly needed, and it has received widespread support – more than 80 businesses have signed a letter calling on the Government to commit to the scheme.
It was heartening to see my successor as Chancellor meet with the North’s three elected mayors recently, promising to continue to back the Northern Powerhouse. And last Friday, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was in Manchester and Leeds, talking trains and privately briefing our Northern Powerhouse Partnership Board on NPR and other important issues.

This gives the Conservatives a golden opportunity to demonstrate how seriously the Government takes the Northern Powerhouse. They should make Northern Powerhouse Rail the centrepoint of their Northern strategy. NPR has to be the next stage in the UK’s high-speed rail network; first came Eurostar, next HS2 and now we need Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Our report today, coupled with our Northern Powerhouse Rail campaign, sets out a bright future for the North. Next week, the Government has the chance across the Pennines to recommit to the North, and build the powerhouse that our country needs.

George Osborne is a former Chancellor and now editor of the London Evening Standard.

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