Five years ago this summer George Osborne captured the imagination of many in the business community when he launched the Northern Powerhouse. The idea of unleashing the unfulfilled potential of the North was irresistible. Here was a Chancellor with the economic vision and the political will to bring together northern cities, towns and rural communities to supercharge economic growth through the ramping up of transport networks and devolution of decision-making powers. He even got the Chinese president on board.
Sacked by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2016, Mr Osborne swapped politics for a job in the newsroom and now edits the London Evening Standard as well as earning a few bob on the side as an £650,000-a-year advisor to BlackRock, the US fund manager. To be fair, he did set up the Northern Powerhouse Partnership with Lord Jim O’Neill, his former Treasury minister, which bangs the drum for more investment in our part of the world.
Amid fears the Northern Powerhouse is running out of steam, 30 newspapers of the North including The Yorkshire Post have united in an effort to apply some pressure to those vying to succeed Mrs May in Number 10, urging them to spell out what they intend to do and how they will work with others to narrow the North-South divide. It is a fine campaign and puts down a marker for the new incumbent that the case for regeneration is urgent.
A new report from the Institute of Public Policy Research North will certainly fuel concerns about rising inequalities in England. It found that between 2009-10 and 2017-18 the North had a £3.6bn cut in public spending, while the South East and the South West together saw a £4.7bn rise in real terms. London also saw a cut in spending, but by far less, at £256m.
IPPR North also found transport spending rose by more than twice as much per person in London, at £330 per person, as in the North, at £149 per person, in real terms. Most concerning of all, 200,000 more northern children are now living in a poor household since the launch of the Northern Powerhouse in 2014, meaning there is a total of 800,000 children living in poverty in the North.
Commenting on the report, Susan Hinchcliffe, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and leader of Bradford Council, said: “While positive steps have been taken to address the economic challenges facing the North, this analysis underlines the need to dramatically increase the pace and scale of investment if we are to truly rebalance the economy and raise living standards for all our communities.
“As a starting point, the Government must recommit to delivering HS2 in full and fund Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a line going through Bradford city centre, as fundamental building blocks of the 21st century transport system the North needs to unlock its full economic potential.”
Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, raised the issue in Parliament recently and afterwards said: “The difference in spending between London and the South East and the North of England cannot go on. We are still boarding decades old stopper trains to get from Bradford to Leeds, while London gets significantly more investment in transport.
“I want the North to have its fair share of funding across all Government departments, but transport would be a good start. Northern Powerhouse Rail needs to be a project that won’t be scrapped by the next prime minister, and it absolutely needs a city centre station in Bradford, the fifth biggest city in the country.”
Challenges aside, let’s not forget all the progress our district has made over the last five years: with the ongoing regeneration of the city centre, new business creation, jobs growth, high productivity, skills development, manufacturing exports and a cultural renaissance, Bradford is getting its mojo back. We’re doing our bit in business; now Government, whatever its political persuasion, needs to rebuild trust and confidence that it is for the North. That would be a very welcome boost for social solidarity.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club