Speedy creation of Northern Powerhouse ‘must be priority’

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne
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THE North needs to take back power from the South and fight hard for the speedy creation of a Northern Powerhouse, according to speakers at the Quoted Companies Alliance annual conference in London.

Delegates were told that the North must push for change if it is to get a fairer hearing and tap into the inward investment that is flooding into London and the South East.

A year ago Chancellor George Osborne mooted the idea of a Northern Powerhouse to bring together the 15 million people living in the North into a collective force that can rival the South.

Kay Swinburne, a Conservative MEP for Wales, told delegates she was amazed that the North has taken so long to stand up for itself.

“I’ve never understood why the English regions have stayed silent for so long.

“I think we need to find some way to make it fairer for large parts of the UK.”

Simon Lewis, chief executive of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, added: “I do think the Northern Powerhouse should be driving devolution.

“It’s a very powerful concept and with Jim O’Neill (the new Commercial Secretary at the Treasury) there is a real opportunity.

“One idea that’s been mooted is you could start by reversing the HS2 plan and start with the North. So the rail line goes from North to South.”

At the moment the plan is for the high-speed railway to link London and Birmingham, followed by an extension to Yorkshire and the North West.

Tim Ward, chief executive of the Quoted Companies Alliance which represents small and mid-cap quoted companies, said: “If we are going to have a Northern Powerhouse it has to have power.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity. The North needs a bigger voice.

“I think it’s a great idea to have HS2 running from the North to the South. The North is the logical place to start.”

Joe Twyman, head of political and social research (EMEA) at market research firm YouGov, said: “People do think things are too London-centric. Not just in terms of the economy, but also in terms of culture, media and politics. If you’re living outside London, you don’t think that’s a good thing.”

The conference covered a number of other subjects including the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union.

A poll of delegates showed that nearly two thirds thought a “Brexit” (Britain exiting the EU) would be bad for their businesses. Sixty-four per cent said they would fear a Brexit, whilst just 13 per cent said they’d welcome it. The rest were impartial.

Mr Twyman, a founding director of YouGov, told delegates that the British public doesn’t have a very clear idea of where Britain stands on Europe.

“The major problem the pro-European politicians have is there needs to be a lot of reform, but no one cares. No one gives a flying whatsit. Yes they should care because it does matter, but we are not dealing with reality –we are dealing with people’s perceptions. People agree reform should take place, but they have no real idea how to.”

He illustrated this by telling the conference that the British public says the worst thing about the EU is freedom of movement, but when asked the best thing, they also say freedom of movement.

“If a referendum is to be won, and I think it probably will be, you’ll have to change the perception.”