The former Northern Powerhouse Minister said that recovery from coronavirus could be a chance to “wipe the slate clean” and not just build back better - as the Government has promised - but to “build back differently” as the North would no longer accept the “inequality” and “rigged system” which had prevented the region from flourishing in the past.
Mr Berry spoke this afternoon to launch a report delivered by think tank the Centre for Policy Studies and Mr Berry’s own Northern Research Group (NRG), which called on Boris Johnson to create a “Big Bang” comparable to the deregulation of the City of London in the 1980s to deliver opportunity and prosperity.
In the report, the NRG said the Government now needed to match the “radicalism” of voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time with a radical agenda of its own.
And Mr Berry said today: “I think for some time, there has been a growing feeling across the North that those in Westminster, who are responsible for collecting our taxes, and spending our money, have had no real plan to improve our lives.”
He said that the Prime Minister had northern voters to thank for his 2019 election victory, and that the Government “has to find a way to rapidly change people's lives and repay their trust that they put in the Government back at that election”.
“Just like 1986 was the right time for Margaret Thatcher and her government to release the potential of the City of London. now is the right time for Boris Johnson's government to release the potential of the North of England,” he said.
The report’s recommendations include cash incentives for investors to spur a “green industrial revolution”, fast-tracking major planning applications with decisions in “weeks not years” and updating pension scheme rules to encourage more investment in northern infrastructure.
It called also for the creations of a new northern infrastructure bond aimed at global investors with a northern recovery bond to allow local investors to support growth and a new growth board for the North to help steer investment.
The report said the various proposals put together had the potential to unlock billions of pounds of private sector investment in the region.
“The North of England for far too long has been in the waiting room for prosperity, and now is the time that we can start to release the potential of our economy,” Mr Berry said.
And he said the coronavirus pandemic could be a chance to start afresh.
He said: “We are coming out of a global pandemic, I for one hope that I never see another one in my lifetime, but it sort of wipes the slate clean - as it were - and it's brilliant Government talks about building back better, but of course in the North of England we want to build back differently.
“Where we started from, we weren't happy with. We weren't happy with the inequality, with the rigged system in favour of London, we want things to change.”
Bishop Auckland Tory MP Dehenna Davison, one of the key faces of the so-called Blue Wall seats, said her voters expected her to deliver on levelling up promises.
“We know that levelling up in itself is a vague concept,” she said.
“But to give you an idea of what I think it means, I think it's making sure that you know whether you're a kid born in Bath or in Birkenhead, you've got opportunities to get a decent education, to get a really good highly skilled job, and you don't feel you need to move away to a big southern city in order to do that.
“And I think some of the measures outlined in this report will go a really long way to helping us get there.”
She added: “I think sometimes when we talk about levelling up as a concept, we forget to think about the real human side of it and what it means for individuals. But it's measures like this, real practical measures that could be introduced by governments specifically for the North, that could have a really solid impact for people on the ground, for themselves and for the kind of outcomes for their families.”