BORIS JOHNSON has pledged: “I want to be the Prime Minister who does Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
The Tory leadership frontrunner made the promise to Tory activists in Exeter on Friday as the campaign to succeed Theresa May intensifies.
Both the former Mayor of London and Jeremy Hunt, the current Foreign Secretary, will attend hustings in Carlisle and Manchester on Saturday where their commitments to the Northern Powerhouse are likely to be tested.
Both rivals are also due to address Conservative activists in Yorkshire next Thursday where they will be expected to spell out their responses to the Power Up The North campaign which The Yorkshire Post, and 33 newspapers, launched at the outset of the leadership contest.
Though Mr Johnson has still to respond to requests from this newspaper for an article setting out his vision for the North, this was his strongest backing yet for Northern Powerhouse Rail – a £39bn high-speed line from Hull to Liverpool.
However he has still explain whether its financial viability will be compromised if he accedes to demands from Tory members to scrap HS2 – the controversial new line from London to Leeds and Manchester. Northern Powerhouse Rail is due to use some of the same rail infrastructure, and rolling stock, to keep costs down.
But Mr Johnson told Tory delegates in the South West that better transport connectivity did hold the key to improving the nation’s economic productivity because better road and rail connections made it easier for people to access jobs.
His comments came after Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss, one of his key supporters, said the North had received insufficient investment “for generations”. She added: Boris wants to fix that. We want to make sure that more of the money we’re spending is in the north of England; sorting out the train services, sorting out the fibre internet.”
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will examine the Government’s support for businesses in the North next Wednesday.
The new inquiry will be headed by its chair Rachel Reeves, the Leeds West MP, who said: “Five years on from establishing the Northern Powerhouse, the time is right to carry out a health-check on the Government’s efforts to attract finance and investment to the North.
“The Government’s Industrial Strategy needs to go beyond big ideas and help turbocharge productivity and growth throughout the UK. The Power Up the North campaign has shone a light on the urgency of addressing the North-South divide and the need to get on with the policies and actions to truly capitalise on the talents of the people across the North.”
She added: “We want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on what they are doing to help business investment in all parts of the UK. What happens when the EU structural funds dry up? Will the Government make good on their commitment to investing throughout the UK?
“As a Committee, we will be examining in this inquiry the effectiveness of the Government’s policies on business investment and how far they are going to help drive the gains in productivity and growth we need to see throughout the country.”
Meanwhile Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison said the Tory leadership contenders needed to set out a wider vision. “Beyond infrastructure, civic leaders and mayors from all parties here will, as well as business, want to hear more about key issues like education here in the North, which is still not delivering what our children deserve to unlock their full potential in their own, and in the national interest,” he added.