Powerhouse leader calls for spending to close Northern education gap

The Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has said handing the control of education back over the North could “not be any worse” than money being controlled in London.

Henri Murison, director at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Photo: Tony Johnson.

Henri Murison challenged the Government over its education spending in the North during a fringe event at Labour’s party conference in Brighton yesterday, amid accusations it was trying to “buy off” the region.

The event was discussing how to close the education and skills gap between the North and the South.

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Mr Murison, said: “The Government needs to seriously think about what it’s going to do to be able to demonstrate - if it is trying to buy off the North, which is definitely is - why it is prepared to pay so little for education."

But Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, said the Government was putting £14bn into schools, which he said was the largest investment in schools in education in a decade.

He said: "This is complete and utter nonsense from someone who clearly doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

"We’re levelling up across the country – with areas that have seen historic under-investment, like large parts of Yorkshire, getting some of the most substantial uplifts – delivering on the Prime Minister’s commitments during his leadership election."

Mr Murison said: “Despite the things I would welcome that the Government has committed to in infrastructure, I would be very strongly concerned that the lack of commitment from the Treasury to even for instance make sure they actually spend the Northern Powerhouse Education Fund promised several years ago has been very lacking.

“And if you don’t have a strategy around education skills, you don’t have a strategy to advance the local economy and I think that is an area where Labour has a real opportunity to show some policy leadership.

“Because despite the Northern Powerhouse being the idea of a Conservative Chancellor, and a former Conservative Chancellor still chairs the organisation, we sometimes feel the Government does not take these issues, particularly education, anywhere as seriously as you might expect them to if they were to genuinely make a difference or rebalance the economy.”

Thelma Walker, MP for Colne Valley and a former headteacher, said: “The fact is there is a clear gap in educational attainment between the North and the South in this country.

“Why that is? There are several factors really but if you look at it students in the North are below the national average in terms of achieving five or more A to Cs at GCSES including English and Maths.

“So if you look at the 16 regions which are used for GCSE outcomes, seven of the worst performing eight are in the North. To me as a northerners, that is just not acceptable.”

Mr Murison added the current spend had set a “very low bar”.

He said: “Often the risk of failure is the reason why Government doesn’t devolve. Well in this particular policy area they’re so shocking, they’ve been shocking at it for 20 years, there is no good reason to keep sending this money from the centre.”Mr Williamson said: “ This government is putting £14 billion into schools, the largest investment in schools in education in a decade. And crucially,