Enthusiasm for the Northern Powerhouse remains undimmed
So after all the soul searching, calls for a Council of the North, pressure from George Osborne and letters from northern businesses, it seems that the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse is steadfast and unwavering. That, at least, was the message from the Northern Powerhouse Minister at Remarkable Group’s Conservative Party Conference event on Monday evening.
Politically this makes complete sense. Sixteen of the party’s top target seats are spread across the North alongside nine of its most vulnerable MPs. The Government cannot afford to be seen to be neglecting northern voters.
Transport investment has dominated the debate around the Northern Powerhouse agenda in recent months. It was not a great surprise to see an extra £400 million found to invest into the North’s creaking transport infrastructure. The investment did of course coincide with Conservative Party Conference here in Manchester.
The Minister’s passion for his brief and his ability to act as a ‘roving minister for the North in Government’ was clear for all to see. His aside that the Northern Powerhouse brand is better known in China than by some of his parliamentary colleagues is a little disconcerting!
Quiet support for Northern Powerhouse
But it was two comments from Jake Berry that were the most telling. First that the Government has delivered more investment into the region’s transport infrastructure than it is given credit for (£13bn was his assertion). And second that the Government has quietly been supporting the Northern Powerhouse through various announcements around skills, digital infrastructure, devolution and the industrial strategy.
Labour Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham are using their profile to press for a clear commitment for Northern Powerhouse Rail in the upcoming budget. While that is happening, it is difficult to see how the Government can move the debate about the Northern Powerhouse onto other areas of the economy such as energy, life sciences or tech, where perhaps it feels it is on a stronger footing.
In the short term at least, the success of the Northern Powerhouse seems destined to be judged on how much money the Government chooses to invest in faster trains. But with five years to go until the next scheduled General Election it may well be the ‘quiet steps’ that the Government is taking that bear the ripest fruit.
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