Time for action

PM Johnson must back plans to boost the Northern economy

30th July 2019

Following his speech in Manchester over the weekend, during which Boris Johnson made a commitment to backing high-speed rail between Manchester and Leeds (and at one point had to cajole the crowd into applauding him), independent think-tank IPPR North is calling on the new prime minister to back plans which would boost the Northern economy. 

The report calls for “radical devolution” to local areas, including northern city regions, like Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, and sets out a vision for Northern economic policy over the next three years and beyond. 

The report, entitled Power and Prosperity, lays out a three-phase approach, beginning with the setting out of a comprehensive Northern industrial strategy, followed by the development and implementation of Northern economic policy.

The North should be given control of its own economic policy in key areas, and government should look to establish a Council of the North to allow better pan-northern policymaking and accountability, according to the report. 

The report highlights the many areas in which the North performs well, including job growth in key areas, such as high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive business services. But to face the challenges that lie ahead the North must be given greater control of its own fate, according to the report. 

Leeds skyline 📸 Mark Ramsay

The government’s handling of Brexit will have a huge impact on the North, as the report highlights that the North is twice as vulnerable to the effects of Brexit as London.  

Energy production has long been a crucial part of the northern economy, and given that the North now generates one-third of all renewable energy it is well placed to adjust to the changing energy needs as a result of climate catastrophe. However, the report warns that a strong strategy will be needed to make the best use of this opportunity. 

The report points to a number of regional economies across Europe which are in many ways comparable to Northern England, but have prospered as a result of greater control of their own economies. By contrast, the report says, the central government in Britain has “failed the North”.

Blackpool pier 📸 Dave Green

Five years on from the introduction of the Northern Powerhouse agenda, many are still sceptical about whether the government takes seriously the goal of boosting the northern economy. 

The report comes amid wider calls for a drastic change in the way policy for the North of England is made, with more than 30 regional newspapers and websites launching their Power Up The North campaign last month. The campaign calls on the government to give greater devolved powers to the North, commit funding immediately for Northern Powerhouse Rail, and generally overhaul the current relationship between central government and the North.  

Central government has failed the North, and it has failed people across the country

Luke Raikes is a senior research fellow at IPPR North, and the author of the Power and Prosperity report, he says: “This country has endured centralised economic policy for decades.

“Central government has failed the North, and it has failed people across the country – even in our booming but poverty-stricken capital. All our regional economies are broken in their own way, and both Londoners and Northerners have paid the price for this missed opportunity. 

“But there is a better way. Now is the time to change. The new Prime Minister must urgently deliver on his promises, seize this opportunity to set right a historic wrong and devolve power to the leaders of the North so that they can take charge of the Northern economy“. 

30th July 2019