Call to mirror Thatcher’s radicalism by unleashing a new ‘Northern Big Bang' to unlock billions in private investment
Everyone has a part to play in the North’s recovery to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic, regional leaders have said, amid calls to mirror the radicalism of Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s ‘big bang’ to unlock billions in private sector investment.
A report today proposes a host of measures to “unleash a torrent of investment into the northern economy” and end its status as one of Europe’s least productive areas.
Doing so could create a northern equivalent of the 1986 ‘big bang’ when the City of London was deregulated, the Government’s former Northern Powerhouse Minister has said, revolutionising its fortunes and turning it into a financial capital.
But while economic initiatives are to be welcomed, Labour MP for Hemsworth Jon Trickett has cautioned, any solution must build on Northerners’ creativity and skills.
“We have already seen what happens when the regional economy is left to the unconstrained free market and is dictated by the board rooms of mega corporations,” he warned.
“What is needed is direct investment, driven by local decision makers and aimed at highly productive, secure and well paid jobs. The North will only rise again when we take away from the remote British Establishment in the Cities of Westminster and London the necessary financial power and economic instruments.”
Former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who now leads the backbench Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said there was an opportunity to make the North the home of the green industrial revolution promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In a report for the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank with former Government advisor Nick King, he calls on the Government to mirror the radicalism of the millions of northern voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time in generations at the 2019 General Election.
In recent decades, the report argues, London and the South East have monopolised investment, talent and attention, resulting in a northern economy which is only three quarters the size of England’s average.
Today’s report, ‘A Northern Big Bang’, sets out a series of recommendations on how to stimulate private sector investment and create an economic powerhouse in the North.
Among proposals is a guarantee that any planning application which creates more than 100 jobs will have a decision within two months or be automatically approved. It also calls for cash incentives to attract investment and capital, focused on green growth.
Mr Berry said: “At the last election millions of Northern voters broke with tradition by voting for the Conservative Party, in many cases for the first time.
“The Prime Minister needs to recognise that they did so not only to deliver Brexit, but to voice the systemic disadvantages felt in many communities that were tired of being neglected in favour of London and the South East.
“The measures we have put forward will help the Prime Minister and this Government to ‘level up’ the economy and help make the North build back better as one of the most investable places in modern times.”
Mr King said: “This Government has taken positive steps to deliver more public investment in infrastructure, but what the North needs is the scale of investment – and dynamism – that only the private sector can bring.”
Roger Marsh, chair of the NP11 which brings together the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from across the North, said he fully supported the aims of the report with some strong recommendations.
“As we rescue, re-imagine and build resilience, I truly believe that everyone has a part to play and we need to do more to ensure all voices are heard and that inclusion is at the heart of the recovery,” he said. “Government should involve local and regional business leaders in designing and implementing interventions and investment.
"The North should be seen as key to the overall national economic and social recovery for decades to come.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are levelling up all areas of the country by empowering our regions through devolving money, resources and control away from Westminster.
“We have taken significant steps with new investment in green technologies to create thousands of high quality jobs in the North, setting out plans for Freeports and investing £100bn in infrastructure to boost growth.”
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