Transport minister George Freeman said “the North should be cheered” by promises coming from Government regarding investment in the region, as the Prime Minister has “heard the frustration.”
Freeman was speaking at a Localis fringe event covering the future of urban devolution, at the Conservative Party Conference taking place in Manchester today.
He said this Government was “more serious” about investing in the North, “more so than others I’ve seen previously”, and Boris Johnson has “really got this”, despite the distraction of Brexit.
Speaking alongside Freeman was Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service.
According to Kerslake, “in comparison to other developed countries, the UK is almost the most unequal. We come 28th, which is almost a Eurovision song contest level of poor performance, and the gap has widened over recent years.
“We all talk about devolution but we’ve become more centralised. George Osborn broke through, because he was a powerful figure, and could go round all of the departments telling them what he wanted, and it worked.
“You need a plan and a powerful figure in Government to push this through.”
Kerslake said “the deal based model is finished”, which Freeman agreed with.
“We need to give responsibility to people and places, in order to rebuild trust in politics.
“We’ve reached the end of the road of people like me issuing dictats from London… it’s amazing we have any inspired local leaders left… the complexity they get wrapped up in is off the scale.”
Freeman suggested incentivisation was key to the next era of devolution, proposing that local areas need to be given control of deficit reduction and growth, and if they beat national average targets they should get a share of the savings.
Speaking to Place North West, Freeman admitted “we have been talking about this for years, and we started in the North a few years ago putting in almost half a billion pounds. However that all went on governance, not developing incentives, and if we continue to simply pour money into enlightened areas without incentives it won’t work.”