The North is the true solution

Following December’s general election, the new government has said it wants to deliver for the North. Across the North and in Leeds City Region we stand ready to work constructively with the new government to make these promises a reality, says Roger Marsh OBE DL in his latest Yorkshire Post column

22 January 2020

At the top of our agenda is securing greater devolution to our region. As the largest city region economy outside of London, a Leeds City Region deal would allow us to secure more investment in desperately needed transport and digital infrastructure, bring new businesses, jobs and opportunities to the region, improve skills, address the climate emergency, and help improve living standards.

Having the powers and funding to deliver on this is critical if we are to deliver our economic objectives and growth in a post-Brexit world.

The government’s promise of support must extend across the North as a whole. Our great towns, cities and rural areas are collectively home to nearly a quarter of the UK’s population and together we contribute over £300 billion a year to UK plc. The scale of our economy is such that if the North were an independent nation, it would rank among the top 20 in the world.

It is in this light that the NP11 group of 11 Northern local enterprise partnerships, of which I am chair, brought together business and community leaders, politicians from across the political spectrum and the media to speak with one voice about our aspirations and launch the Manifesto for the North last year.

The Manifesto for the North sets out a clear policy agenda around rebalancing the UK that we hope the new government can support, with greater power over housing, education, training and skills, and of course, transport.

Part of this mission to level-up the economy must include changing the Green Book – the rules that the Treasury uses to evaluate value for money when planning public investments. For too long, spending has been overwhelmingly concentrated in London and the South East while denying investment elsewhere. 

There is now a recognition by the Prime Minister and in Whitehall that the North is part of the solution for UK plc and as we call for in the Manifesto for the North, rebalancing the economy needs to be an explicit ambition of the government, so that the whole of the UK can meet its full potential.

Transport is our priority

I understand all too well that the state of our transport infrastructure across the North is holding us back. We are living with the consequences of decades of underinvestment in the North’s rail network. Punctuality and reliability are not just an inconvenience to passengers, but also damaging our economy, undermining confidence in public transport and standing in the way of our long-term ambitions.

Infrastructure is not an either-or choice. We remain committed to HS2, integrated with Northern Powerhouse Rail with a city centre stop in Bradford, an upgraded Trans-Pennine route and a transformed Leeds Station and a mass transit solution for Leeds City Region.

We welcome the commitments that have been given to Transport for the North, which we are clear must now be followed with meaningful action in order to deliver real improvements for our passengers. We also call on the government to act quickly to end the uncertainty around HS2.

One area where the North can play a leading role both across the UK and internationally is in tackling the climate crisis. From off-shore wind in the Humber, clean energy generation in Teesside and Yorkshire, and nuclear capabilities in Cumbria, the North has the potential to be the UK’s clean energy powerhouse if we can agree sustainable funding models with appropriate Northern governance.

Not only would this help the country meet its international climate change obligations, it would also create transformational economic opportunities and new skilled jobs for the people of the North.

Taking steps to boost productivity

Closer to home, we will publish our Local Industrial Strategy for Leeds City Region in spring, an ambitious long-term plan that will improve productivity, boost businesses and protect the environment, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of our strong economy. 

The Local Industrial Strategy is the product of extensive consultation, research and engagement to identify the priorities and the right steps we can take to meet them. Over the past year, we have spoken to over 1,000 people in the region and beyond at more than 70 events. Through this process, we have identified the need to improve opportunities and the quality of life for everyone in Leeds City Region as a central thread.

As a region, we need to overcome a range of health, social and environmental challenges if we are to reach our full potential. But we are also home to a world-leading healthcare sector that is not only a key growth sector and a major source of jobs, but could also lead to game-changing innovation and new treatments that can help us play a full role in solving national and global challenges like the ageing population.

With the success of the £1 billion-plus Growth Deal agreed with government in 2014, we’ve shown what we can achieve when given the power and funding. The Growth Deal has delivered transformational investment in our economy, directly helping to improve the lives of everyone who lives and works in the region. With a devolution deal, we would be able to do so much more.

Recent months have seen a great sense of confidence and momentum around the North, with the region gaining more national prominence than I have seen in the past 40 years. Now with greater devolution and more of a say over the key issues that directly affect our lives and futures, it’s time to turn the Northern Powerhouse from an idea into reality; the North is the true solution.

This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post