Lord Jim O’Neill, economist and former junior Government minister, told an audience of Northern leaders last night to expect a “serious” response from the Government regarding the Northern Powerhouse, hinting “you are going to be surprised”.
O’Neill was the keynote speaker at a Northern Powerhouse drinks reception, hosted on the 42nd floor of London’s Leadenhall building by Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle.
O’Neill stepped down last month as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse, amid rumours that he and new Prime Minister Theresa May had disagreed about the Government’s approach to investment from countries such as China. O’Neill was given the Northern Powerhouse brief last year by then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
He used his speech to reassure the Northern attendees about the Northern Powerhouse agenda and said that “rebalancing the economy’s excessive dependence on London is more important than Brexit”.
“We won’t be able to see if the Northern Powerhouse is a success for at least two terms of Government. You can’t measure if the policies have had an impact overnight.
“For the next phase of devolving powers, the issue is not about whether Osborne is in Government, or if I’m a junior minister. It’s about people from the North taking ownership and going out of the comfort zone, and proving we can rebalance this country.”
He said that international interest in the Northern economy continued to be strong.
“The Chinese in particular love the Northern Powerhouse; it fits with their desire to shift things West. We are also pricking interest in the United States.”
Since May and her new cabinet took over earlier this year, there has been speculation that the Government is moving away from the pro-North agenda which dominated the rhetoric of former Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.
However, O’Neill dismissed this view and said: “The new Government might not see the North with the same branding focus, but you are going to be surprised about how serious they are, about industrial strategy in particular, and just how far they are willing to go.”