Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, told Place North West that while the past week has been “a shock to the political system”, he is “very confident” that regional growth plans will survive the uncertainty.
In the days following the EU referendum, Bernstein said that he had been meeting with investors, to give “a very strong message that Manchester is still open for business”.
“There’s been a shock to the political system, and we’ve got to recognise it’s happened, there’s no point looking back,” he said. “Manchester is still a hugely attractive, hugely safe place for people to invest their money, it’s still the safest environment outside of London for businesses to invest and expand. People can have real confidence about their investment decisions here, and we will work hard to ensure their priorities are our own.”
On a national stage, Bernstein said he was “pushing very hard for very clear priorities for the Northern Powerhouse, transport investment, in particular HS2, and the completion of the Northern Hub. These are all absolutely fundamental to any macro analysis of our economic priorities.”
Although the long-term future of European development funding is in question following the UK’s vote to exit the Union, Bernstein was firm that projects with monies confirmed had nothing to fear.
“Committed projects are committed projects, a contract’s a contract. The issue around European money for the new programme is whether it finishes in 2018 or 2020. Well, no one knows the answer to that at the moment, and we have to recognise that the position on European money is going to be uncertain. If gaps emerge in our resource base, then we’ll have to work with Government to fill them, that’s what Governments are for.”
While Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a champion of the Northern Powerhouse agenda, and a proponent of devolution, with a new Prime Minister due to be in place by September, his future role in central Government is unclear.
Bernstein was quick to reassure that the Northern Powerhouse project would continue with or without Osborne, as “if it was only ever the strategy of one man, it was never going to happen”.
“What this country voted against was internationalism, not localism,” he said. “Indeed, if we are to promote greater levels of economic inclusion and drive growth, to equip ourselves better to deal with the negatives associated with post-industrialisation and how economies adapt to the global market, devolution is part of that answer.”
In the midst of the events of the past week, Transport for the North published a long-awaited economic review into the Northern Powerhouse, outlining the North’s potential to deliver £97bn in additional GVA, supported by several regional capabilities.
Speaking to Place North West following the launch of the report, John Cridland, chairman of TfN, was insistent that the Brexit vote and Government turmoil would not destabilise the Northern Powerhouse.
“We were joined at the launch by James Wharton MP and Lord Jim O’Neill, and we all agreed that the Northern Powerhouse is now more important than ever.
“It’s imperative that we stick with the plan, and it’s hard to envisage any politician who won’t see that raising the standards of 16 million Northern citizens isn’t essential.
“We are not asking the Government for a decision in the next few weeks, and until we have a new Prime Minister, of course decisions on large scale national infrastructure projects will be on hold. We are working to cost proposals, which we will deliver to the new Government.
“We are striking a balance between short-term urgent and long-term important. In terms of short term, things are happening now, such as the Todmorden Curve in Lancashire, a 500m stretch of track which has resulted in 150,000 more ticket sales. It doesn’t have to be the scale of Crossrail to have an impact.
“We will also be continuing with feasibility studies for the big schemes such as the TransPennine tunnel, our own Crossrail for the North, and like Crossrail this is a long term plan and will take years to deliver.”