Bernard Ginns: North still being served up the crumbs from the top table

A MEDIA relations manager from Crossrail wrote to me following last week’s column to point out the supply chain opportunities that the £15.9bn London project will generate for firms in Yorkshire.

I responded by saying that most businesses in Yorkshire would cry out for a major infrastructure investment project like Crossrail and crumbs from the table are small consolation.

To recap, Crossrail is Europe’s biggest construction project and is creating tens of thousands of jobs and training opportunities for London and the South East.

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Bully for them, I wrote. A new train set for the gilded millionaires and their army of slave workers in London town. No wonder the capital is leaving the rest of the country behind. But the spokesman said around three in five companies in the project’s supply chain are based outside London and more than half (58 per cent) are SMEs.

He gave the example of Romtech, a Sheffield-based manufacturer of reinforcement cages; it has picked up a number of Crossrail contracts with a total value of around £10m, supplying more than 10,000 tonnes of steel to a number of Crossrail sites.

With Crossrail moving into peak construction, it is now that business opportunities will really start to arise, said the spokesman, claiming that Crossrail will support the equivalent of 55,000 full-time jobs right around the UK.

“We’re very keen to make sure that firms from right around the UK are aware of this and would urge businesses in Yorkshire to seize the opportunities that the project has to offer,” he said.

I hope business readers can take advantage of this rare example of generosity from the capital.

Incidentally, I asked how many of Crossrail’s suppliers are based in the North of England.

At least 191 in the top three tiers, many of which will have won multiple contracts, replied the spokesman, adding that the real number is likely to be a good deal higher as Crossrail is only able to monitor a certain amount of activity in its supply chain.

I asked how many suppliers are based in London and the South East.

Two days later the answer arrived – it is 977 and the same caveats apply.

Which proves my original point that London and South East are the big winners, time and again, when it comes to big-ticket infrastructure projects, on many different levels.

More evidence of this lingering anti-northern bias came at the weekend, thanks to The Observer with its scoop on the Government’s £730m Growing Places Fund.

The coalition launched the fund two years ago to help address infrastructure constraints, promote economic growth and deliver jobs and houses.

Speaking at the time, ministers hoped it would kick start some of the developments in Yorkshire that have stalled because developers have experienced cash flow problems or have been hit by the sluggish economy.

Figures released to Labour MP Toby Perkins showed that £255m – 35 per cent of the total – went into London and the South East from the latest slice of the fund, whereas the North East received just under £34m – 4.5 per cent. Yorkshire got £82m.

Mr Perkins, the shadow minister for small and medium-sized enterprises, accused the Government of creating a “two-nation economy” by supporting London and the South East at the expense of less prosperous parts of the country.

“They promised that this would be vital infrastructure and regeneration funding, yet the areas in greatest need of regeneration and investment are the ones that have received least,” said the MP for Chesterfield.

“We want to see a recovery that works for people and businesses right across Britain, but this Government is holding back areas that also have great potential for growth.”

In response, the newly promoted local growth minister (and Yorkshire MP) Kris Hopkins told the Yorkshire Post: “The Growing Places funding was based on both population and earnings to reflect the economic activity in the local areas.

“The programme has been supporting local infrastructure projects which unlock housing and economic growth in all parts of the country, from Cornwall to Cumbria, rural and urban, north and south.”

Follow the money, if you want to get to the truth.