Opportunities for investment and devolution in the North of England must not be allowed to become casualties of any increased wave of austerity in the wake of Britain’s decision to exit the European Union.
Key figures of local government and industry used yesterday’s Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda summit to state that the uncertainty and political fall-out from last Thursday’s vote must not be used as an excuse to allow the plans brought about under the outgoing occupants of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street to be placed on the back burner.
The event, hosted at the Leeds offices of law firm DLA Piper, was also told by one of China’s top diplomats to the UK that his country remained extremely interested in investing in the North of England and that the vote to leave the EU did not mean a negation of investment opportunities in the UK for the world’s second biggest economy.
On the day in which research was published showing the new technologies could add £97bn to the North’s economy, Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and global co-chair of DLA Piper, told delegates that the North “must keep Westminster under control and not allow them to spoil what the area has needed for years”.
Sir Nigel said: “The Remain campaign had no plan B and the leave campaign had no plan A. It is up to us and there is a responsibility on business leaders to get this right.”
Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan was equally bullish, saying: “HS2 cannot become a casualty of any next phase of austerity. We need to make sure now that the tremors that are going through the economy now do not translate into the shocks we saw in 2007 and 2008.
“In this city we had a plan, even if Whitehall didn’t. We have held meetings with the chamber with the LEP, with FSB, and with key business organisations. We are making sure that major development schemes which are near to completion do just that.
“In terms of those that are more at risk in terms of foreign finance we have to provide local stability which they can have confidence in. There may be a feeling that devolution has gone on to the back burner. We still believe that devolution is vital. Given that Whitehall is going to be focused on Brexit and potential further cuts in their funding, we believe that the case for devolution is even stronger.
“The image of Yorkshire and the North has taken a bit of a hit in this past week. In the North we need to stay international in our outlook and see ourselves as still being in Europe even though we are out of the European Union.
“If anyone thought the Northern Powerhouse initiative was something that belonged to David Cameron and George Osborne and that if they go it goes, I have to say I believe the opposite. It is almost impossible for an incoming PM and Chancellor to turn away from the North. We have got to be part of any person who wants to be elected’s plans.”
He added that rebalancing the economy away from financial services could now be even more pertinent if the passporting issues for financial services is lost as part of the exit negotiations.
The report highlighted digital technologies, health innovation, energy and advanced manufacturing have the potential to transform the North of England’s economy, adding £97bn and 850,000 jobs by 2050.
Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton said: “We are committed to bringing together the great cities and towns of the North to become a powerhouse for our economy.”