Mr Johnson laid out his vision of post-Brexit Britain yesterday in Manchester, vowing to have the “guts” to increase wages and end regional disparities, but instead offered only “more rhetoric veiled under the slogan of ‘Build Back Better’”, according to a Yorkshire metro mayor.
The 45-minute long speech contained no detail on the long-awaited Northern Powerhouse Rail project, despite a week of hints that a major announcement to boost the North’s beleaguered rail infrastructure was coming.
The lack of detail over the showpiece transport project attracted criticism from leaders across the Yorkshire region.
Echoing previous promises, Mr Johnson told the party faithful that “we will do Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North”, but offered no details about the scheme or when it would be delivered.
“Transport is one of the supreme leveller-uppers and we are making the big generational changes shirked by previous governments,” he added.
This was despite the Prime Minister suggesting on at least four occasions in the past week that there was potentially significant news on northern transport to come.
The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, said she had been looking forward to hearing Mr Johnson “put rumours to bed” on the future of HS2 highspeed rail project.
But she said: “Sadly, what we got was more rhetoric veiled under the slogan of “Build Back Better” and another promise of ‘levelling up’.
“In the Spending Review later this month, the time for rhetoric will be over. We need decisions. We need detail about the Government’s plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail. We need its delivery in full, with a stop in Bradford.
“We need HS2 East (to Yorkshire) and new electrified lines across the Pennines.
“We agree that Leeds and West Yorkshire needs a mass transit system, and we continue to make the case to the Government about how we can work together to deliver this.”
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership added that it is “still waiting” for guarantees that HS2 will be constructed and called for it to be built “from the North” to deliver the new lines needed to link northern cities first before the full network is completed on to London.
The only policy laid out in Mr Johnson’s speech was a cash boost of £3,000 to attract science and maths teachers to schools in desperate need, as part of a wider pledge to close attainment gaps across the country.
Alongside levelling up, Mr Johnson also drove home his push for a “high wage, low tax economy,” after Ministers have accused businesses of being too dependent on cheaper labour from abroad.
The Prime Minister said “the people of this country need and deserve a high skill and high productivity” economy and pressed businesses “not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment the facilities the machinery they need to do their jobs.”
However, one business leader maintained that the rhetoric of Mr Johnson’s speech “does not match the current lived realities of small businesses”.
Mike Cherry, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, called on the “party of enterprise to get back on the pitch”, and stated the need for “ambitious policies aimed at driving growth and reducing tax” in the forthcoming Budget later this month.
Mr Cherry added: “It’s a relief to hear the PM speak positively about the business community.
“But it’s equally remarkable to hear the benefits of a low tax economy vaunted when the Government has just signed off a hike in National Insurance contributions for employers, sole traders and employees alike, which we estimate will cost at least 50,000 jobs.”