Northern Powerhouse vital to stop Yorkshire losing 'brightest and best' to London, says Cabinet minister

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A long-awaited upgrade to the North of England’s beleaguered transport infrastructure is vital to stop some of Yorkshire’s brightest talent from moving to London, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry has warned.

Mr Berry and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps were in Leeds to meet local leaders, including West Yorkshire Combined Authority, to discuss transport and infrastructure.

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at the Yorkshire Post's offices.

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at the Yorkshire Post's offices.

Mr Shapps also gave a strong indication that Treasury rules benefit London when it comes to investment will be ripped up in the next budget.

Questioned on whether Northern leaders could have faith in the new Government when it came to backing ambitious infrastructure projects, Mr Berry said: "I think we can safely say the political will and the commitment is in place. In terms of the cash, you do need a plan to work to and today we have reiterated our ambition to work with them."

He added: "We recognise that when Leeds does well and the Leeds City Region does well, we all do well and that is absolutely hard-wired into Government, that pan-Northern approach to everything."

Earlier in the day, Mr Shapps announced that Northern could lose its franchise within months due to its poor financial situation.

Jake Berry and Grant Shapps at Leeds Station.

Jake Berry and Grant Shapps at Leeds Station.

Speaking at the Yorkshire Post's offices, Mr Berry stressed that northern transport, devolution and opportunity were inextricably linked.

"It's not actually about buses or trains or trams, it's about people and the place I am most excited about in terms of its potential in West Yorkshire is Bradford," he said.

"It's the youngest city in the UK, it's got some of the best educated young people. The real challenge stopping those people achieving their potential is the connectivity with Leeds, which is the regional powerhouse of the economy.

"And so this isn't about pretty new modes of transport, this is about taking every single young person in West Yorkshire, providing that brilliant education, as we are already doing, and saying to them - the way you reach your full potential is not going to Leeds once, getting on a train to London and never coming back again, it's about staying in Bradford, it's about staying in Calderdale, Keighley or the Calder Valley, and working in this regional superpower of an economy we have here in Leeds.

"And until we fix the ability of people to get round, we're never really going to deliver this Northern Powerhouse, because if it's quicker to go to London than it is to Leeds, then people are going to go to London and that's a tragedy. It's a huge loss for our area and we cannot keep exporting our brightest and best young people south."

A 'One Yorkshire' devolution deal was rejected by the government at the start of 2019, but Mr Berry stressed he still wanted to see devolution at the Leeds City Region level.

Leeds and Yorkshire are widely considered to be losing out compared to other places that have regional mayors, such as in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

"We are working closely with West Yorkshire leaders," Mr Berry said. "I acknowledge that it wouldn't be their absolutely preferred solution, but there is a coalition of the willing.

"When you think of the prime capabilities of your economy here [in Leeds] - the hi-tech manufacturing and engineering, the huge concentration you have with a quarter-of-a-million people working in the financial services industry - having that one individual mayor...that I think can be the real change in your economy and giving you control of bus franchising networks and looking at a much wider scale in terms of connectivity."

Mr Shapps criticised the way past Government's had adhered too strictly to the so-called Treasury Green Book, whereby decisions about where to invest new cash are made on a purely financial basis - often benefiting London at the expense of less prosperous regions.

"That's why you will have seen talk about how we are going to properly rebalance the economy by taking a much broader view," he said. "In fact, both Jake and I were in Cabinet this week raising exactly the subject of the Green Book."

He added: "We are completely committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail, the first speech the Prime Minister made was in Manchester about connecting Manchester to Leeds as our very first commitment, and we get that we're going to have to look at these things differently because unless you change something then nothing will ever change".

Asked whether the argument had been won in Government about changing the way funding is allocated, Mr Shapps said: "I think you will need to wait for the budget but I think you will not be disappointed."