Osborne and the Conservatives were first to the finishing tape but what lies in store for the North post-election?

The first 100 days – what now for the Northern Powerhouse?

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PPS GroupIn the run-up to the election David Cameron set out his plans for the first 100 days of a new Government. At that point few had predicted that the Conservatives would be entering office with a majority. So, how has the first 100 days impacted on the North West, asks Rebecca Eatwell.

The question on everyone’s lips pre-election was whether the promise of a Northern Powerhouse would materialise or whether it was just electioneering, cleverly designed to get the Northern vote out. In reality I expect there are few that think it was just an election promise with Osborne driving the policy from his Cheshire constituency. But, do the Conservatives look like they will deliver on their manifesto commitments?

The initial steps appeared positive with the Chancellor using his first speech after the election to address the key investments planned for the North of England, in what he called putting ‘the Power into Northern Powerhouse’.

Then there was the appointment of ‘passionate Northerner’ Jim O’Neill, as the Treasury’s Northern Powerhouse commercial secretary and James Wharton as the responsible Minister. This signaled a move towards delivery and away from the rhetoric that dominated the debate pre-election. However, within weeks both were left defending the Government’s commitment as a number of key transport projects stalled – including the Transpennine rail electrification project, the Ordsall Chord and smart ticketing. Jim O’Neill also faced a political storm after saying that Manchester is ‘at the heart’ of the Northern Powerhouse, with Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston claiming that the government doesn’t really know where the North actually is.

Unsurprisingly there are those that have jumped on the opportunity to highlight cracks in what seemed like a universally supported policy. Labour MP for Wythenshawe Mike Kane has described the delays as a ‘litany of disasters’ with others claiming that it is naive to think that Northern cities can be pulled together into one homogenous economic power.

With devolution at its heart it is not surprising that Manchester is seen as the golden child of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse. It has only been through capitulation on having a metro mayor that Manchester will get control over budgets for transport, housing, police and health. The most talked about element of the ‘Devo Manc’ deal has been the handing over of control of the £6bn health budget from April 2016 – something which critics have argued could see greater privatisation and a drop in standards.

Another controversial aspect of the deal has been the lack of democracy in the decision-making. Devo Manc was reportedly negotiated in secret by Sir Howard Bernstein and Chancellor George Osborne; the new interim Metro Mayor (and current Police and Crime Commissioner) Tony Lloyd was appointed, and not elected, to the role. However, on the flip side business leaders have been praising the deal, arguing that it will enable the region to act more flexibly and respond more quickly to changing needs. There are plenty of questions around devolution that need answering over the coming months, not least the governance arrangements and how to ensure the new structures don’t lead to new levels of bureaucracy.

Earlier this week the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was in Bolton to reiterate the government’s commitment to deliver £13bn investment in northern transport. Launching the ‘Connecting the Northern Powerhouse’ campaign he has insisted that it’s full steam ahead. This blueprint for the Northern Powerhouse – which includes a new ‘TransNorth’ rail network; upgrading the M62 and M6; and an Oyster-style travel card covering the whole of the North – has been criticised as just a re-announcement of schemes that have been already publicised. But its significance lies beyond the individual projects it contains. It signals a strong message from Government that they are determined to lead the debate and keep the initiative on track.

Undoubtedly the Northern Powerhouse strategy was as much about party politics as political economy, but frankly as a Northerner I’m not sure I care. There is a growing momentum behind it that represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for this region and we shouldn’t get distracted from that – whatever your political leanings. The most important thing over the coming months is for the business community across the North to work together to ensure that the Northern Powerhouse moves from ideology into delivery. The North of England has been given a ‘powerful new voice’ – let’s make sure we use it to our advantage.

Rebecca Eatwell PPS NorthRebecca Eatwell is director of communications consultancy PPS North

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Where is the Northern Powerhouse? “The Government has admitted it does not know where the area it calls the “northern powerhouse” begins and ends.

Ministers were put on the spot when Newcastle Labour MP Nick Brown asked to know what “geographic area is covered by the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative.”

But anyone hoping for a clear definition of what David Cameron’s Government considers the North of England was about to be disappointed.

James Wharton, the minister responsible for the flagship regeneration project, responded that the “exact extent of the North in the context of the Northern Powerhouse is not prescribed by the Government.” http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/government-admits-doesnt-know-northern-9609894

Does it include the North East and Cumbria? “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.” http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/08/manchester-the-clear-focus-of-george-osbornes-northern-powerhouse

£13bn gets you a lot of jobs, homes – both private and affordable, schools, commercial space – start up, and move on; nope “George Osborne’s £13bn ‘northern powerhouse’ fund includes routine council spending on potholes. …Embarrassment for government as it confirms only £5bn of announced £13bn funding is allocated for major road schemes and £3bn for rail. …George Osborne’s pledge to build a “northern powerhouse” has been condemned as “cynical pre-election spin” as it emerged that the £13bn committed to build it includes routine spending on potholes and maintenance for the A1, which comes out of London.” http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/05/northern-powerhouse-fund-condemned-including-routine-potholes-budget

The Telegraph thinks it’s a good idea; nope “Four reasons why the Northern Powerhouse won’t happen
For a London-born Chancellor who grew up in the capital and studied there and in Oxford to suggest that a number of Northern cities can be pulled together in one economic conglomeration is risible” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11699890/Four-reasons-why-the-Northern-Powerhouse-wont-happen.html

By a sceptic writes ....

The concept of the Northern Powerhouse has to be kept vague and there must be some equity between the major northern cities for it to succeed. If Manchester is favoured and seen as ‘the heart of the Northern Powerhouse’ then Yorkshire will not want a part of it and neither will Liverpool. It’s strength will be in its multi polarity, or it will not achieve anything. One centre with empoverished poles will improve nothing for anyone let alone the centre.

By Paul Blackburn

It is fairly obvious that the implied epicentre of the project would need to be Manchester…where else would it be? Liverpool and Leeds are the obvious linkages that would create the hub. But a far trickier problem will be getting past the petty territoriality instincts of the Scousers in particular (I am a Scouser born and bred BTW – so I’m allowed to say this!). The reality is that is has to have a starting point and that is to do with Manchester’s international connections and the proximity of the airport hub. The economics of the North will only change if we can create enough critical mass to offer an alternative to the over bloated and pricey South East. Sooner or later the logic of business economics will prevail.

By Paul Iddon RIBA

The ‘why’ is much more intreaguing and important than the ‘what’ when it comes to the northern powerhouse. Window dressing to give the tories a chance to sieze power in the cities of the north. Consider London’s experience: predominently Labour supporting on a local and national level for a generation. Two terms of red Ken followed two of Boris as metro mayor. Careful what you wish for (Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds) or what’s been imposed on you (Greater Manchester).

By bob allatt

Why do we need a geographical boundary? In a country where we define ourselves (sometimes) as Northerners or Southerners, there can never be a simple defining line. It can and should also span parts of Wales and Scotland.
The definition will come from the amount of investment and/or regeneration. If it’s a little, then don’t expect much more than parts of Greater Manchester. If it’s more successful than we imagine, then it can dynamically extend as far as Stoke and Carlisle or beyond.

By Steve Edgeller

The problem with this venture,is Manchester is only slightly dominant North of Birmingham,unlike London,which is totally dominant South of it.A better idea would have been three powerhouses. A North West one incorporating Liverpool,Warrington up to Preston,plus Chester,maybe including North Wales,as that part of Wales has more in common with the North West than it does with Cardiff.This logistically would makes more sense than a ridiculous attempt to have an economic hub stretching from the Mersey to the Tyne. This is typical Southern arrogance about the geography of the North.This is the equivalent of trying to incorporate Exeter within the London economic hub.Do these people know how far Liverpool is from Newcastle? Plus Liverpool and Manchester are historically two of the great cities of Europe. They are not Reading and Swindon,They should be equal partners in a North Western powerhouse,interacting with each other and their surrounding hinterlands.Another powerhouse should be Leeds/West Yorkshire and Sheffield.This again makes more sense and the North East should be treated as a separate entity,with different needs.On top of this a fast train link should be built between Liverpool and Leeds to connect to HS2 to connect with Sheffield.This would mean easy access to London and Birmingham from both Manchester and Leeds,plus Manchester airport. This line should eventually be extended from Manchester to Glasgow and from Leeds via Newcastle to Edinburgh.Even if Scotland leaves the union this makes economic sense,like linking London with Paris. Is this really that hard to achieve in one of the World’s richest economic epicentre’s? These politicians know what needs to be done but are not prepared to put the money up.They have stumbled already with the cancellation of electrifying the line between Manchester and York,costing a pathetic three hundred million pounds.The combined economy of Merseyside and Manchester is almost 90 billion pounds.Add Cheshire and Lancashire to that and it is around 140 billion.West and South Yorkshire combined is around 70 billion. Add Derbyshire to that and it is around 90 billion.That is over 230 billion pounds.This is a bigger economy than Portugal,Greece,Finland and similar to Denmark.We should stop thinking we are the poor relation and start making these statistics more widely known.If we were a separate nation we would be the fifteenth richest country in the EU..

By Elephant