Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, has called on Government to conclude a devolution deal for Cheshire and Warrington this year, a move welcomed by local business leaders.
In a paper entitled Devolution for the North, O’Neill said that a year on from Metro Mayors being elected in various city regions, “there appears to be a wide and strong acceptance of the concept of devolution,” describing the strength of the Cheshire proposition as “quite compelling”.
O’Neill said: “Alongside key economic centres such as Warrington and Chester and in particular Crewe which will be directly connected to HS2, key sites in advanced manufacturing and energy function alongside world leading assets like Alderley Park. This demonstrates the significant importance of the corridor in health innovation stretching out from Cheshire linking the wider assets in Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester.
“Furthermore, there is a high level of consensus between the local authorities involved, as well as the full support and input of the Local Enterprise Partnership and business, taking advantage of being the country’s second most productive place to contribute even more to the Northern economy. Specifically, the barriers of transport connectivity within the economic area, as well as priorities in skills, make a compelling case which demonstrates a combined authority and Metro Mayor government should have confidence in.
“My firmly held view is that government should be prepared to conclude a deal immediately, ensuring it is one of many steps to decentralisation the Chancellor can deliver in this year’s Autumn Budget.”
In the report, which is available in full online. O’Neill described Cheshire, Yorkshire and North of Tyne as the three “notable” regional gaps as far as devolution is concerned. He also noted the progress of a Borderlands arrangement taking in the greater Carlisle area with two rural authority areas north of the Scottish border.
The paper was issued on Friday, to coincide with a partnership event involving Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who thanked O’Neill for the report on behalf of Government and encouraged regional figures to “keep having the conversation”.
Among those in favour of pushing devolution to the top of the agenda is key landholder Tatton Group. Henry Brooks, managing director, said: “As a successful northern economy, this is an opportunity to create even greater opportunities for current and future generations. Local people know best regarding what we need as a community and devolution will help to ensure that investment, such as in rural broadband, rail and roads, happens in the right place.
“We commend the Northern Powerhouse Partnership for making these announcements and support the comments made by Jake Berry. We look forward to urgently hearing similarly strong commitment from other Government departments about these plans.”
Philip Cox, chief executive of Cheshire & Warrington LEP, added: “As a sub-region, the three local authorities and LEP are on the record as saying we’d like to do a devolution deal, so we welcome all that Jim O’Neill and Jake Berry had to say.”