The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called for more investment and devolution for the North as an Institute for Public Policy Research report highlighted falling public spending, while spending in the South increased.
IPPR’s State of the North report has won headlines around some of its stark findings, such as that 2m working age adults and 1m children live in poverty in the North, parts of which suffer from the nation’s lowest life expectancy.
The organisation said that the time is right for a clean break to be made with work done on the Northern Powerhouse so far, and that it should be reprioritised to allow more emphasis on meaningful devolution.
Burnham said: “This report once again makes the irrefutable case for greater investment and devolution in the North to be a national priority.
“This Government promised us a Northern Powerhouse and Northern leaders stand ready to work with them to close the North-South divide which pervades right across public spending, poverty rates and life expectancy.
“But, almost five years after the Government promised us a Northern Powerhouse, we learn that public spending in the North has fallen while rising in the South. This has got to stop and it is time that the North came to the front of the queue for public investment.
“We know that devolution is working. It has had a profoundly positive effect on the culture of our city region. It has created a new energy, a sense of possibility as we take control of our future and do things our way. Northern business, political and civic leaders are getting organised and now is the time for the Government to ensure we have the investment and devolution we need.”
There are familiar themes in what is the IPPR’s fifth State of the North report. Headline numbers include a decline in real terms weekly pay across the North since 2008, which has suffered disproportionately in policing cuts and the loss of Government jobs , not to mention London’s oft-referenced domination of transport spending.
In the IPPR’s view, the whole Northern Powerhouse agenda needs to shift. It said: “For some proponents, the Northern Powerhouse’s primary objective was to build a London-style mega-region around Manchester, and so the agenda often sidelined the other places and assets”. The devolution deals agreed are described as “often rather partial and piecemeal, with a negotiation process often lacking transparency”.
As to what Northern leaders can do to start addressing the issues from within, the IPPR makes recommendations grouped into five sections:
- Commit to a ‘whole North’ approach
- Support job creation and productivity in high-growth and large-employment sectors of the economy
- Invest in both infrastructure and people
- Deliver economic justice
- Lead from the North
The last point is important: the IPPR feels. It said: “New pan-Northern organisations are evolving, including the NP11 and the Convention of the North, but the Government needs to reboot devolution so that they can do so more effectively, and there needs to be new opportunities for people to engage with local policymakers and the devolution agenda.
“The Northern Powerhouse can no longer be a top-down agenda done to the North, it must be an agenda of the North, by the North and for the North if it is to succeed.
“It is incumbent on the Government to follow through and devolve more power to the North, but the North must also use this power effectively and inclusively.”
Leaders should be prepared to intervene in key sectors, the institute said, both in the North’s “frontier industries” such as digital, energy, advanced manufacturing and health innovation, but also in “everyday economy” such as retail and hospitality, massive employers where working conditions are often poor and productivity and pay lags the national average.
The full report can be read here.