Reformed or killed? The Northern Powerhouse under Theresa May
We started the week expecting the beginning of a fierce election battle between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom; we ended it with a new Prime Minister and Cabinet taking control of the British Government.
Theresa May has already raised eyebrows with her appointments and sackings so far: George Osborne was ruthlessly cut adrift whilst Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and “star” of the Leave campaign, was appointed Foreign Secretary, to push Britain’s post-Brexit agenda across the globe.
But what about the Cabinet changes that will affect British business and, perhaps more importantly, the Northern Powerhouse? Will the policy programme still have a place in this new-look administration or will it follow George Osborne, and be placed on the political scrap heap?
On Thursday, during an interview with LBC, the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, moved to calm speculation on Northern investment, and tried reassuring Northern politicians and business leaders by saying:
“I think that it’s been clear and obvious for many years that if Britain is going to be a sustainably prosperous country we have to spread the prosperity across the nation. We can’t just have it clustered in the southeast of England, and the investment particularly in transport infrastructure to allow the potential of our Northern cities in particular to be realised is a crucial contribution to the overall prosperity of the economy going forward.”
These comments also followed a briefing which took place after Theresa May spoke outside Number 10 after formally accepting the position of Prime Minister, suggesting the Northern Powerhouse would continue. However this briefing offered a very subtle difference in tone, suggesting that the aim was to now spread investment more evenly across the North, rather than concentrating mainly on Manchester. Covered by The Chronicle, the report says that Theresa May will “end the Conservative Government’s obsession with Manchester” by making sure that all of the cities in the North will receive support in order to prosper.
Ultimately, both these comments by the new Prime Minister and her Chancellor surely mean that the Northern Powerhouse is here to stay, although it may look quite different to how George Osborne, the programme’s architect, envisioned it. But of concern will be the appointment of Sajid Javid to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The former Business Secretary has a frosty relationship with the North, having been criticised for plans to relocated 228 jobs in the Northern Powerhouse Department from Sheffield to London – a decision that was described as “madness” by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. With Javid now responsible for the department that oversees the Northern Powerhouse many will be left to wonder how seriously he will take it, or whether it will fall by the wayside.
It’s still unclear what will happen with the Northern Powerhouse but it is only early days for Theresa May’s administration. The right noises have been made by the Prime Minister and have been echoed, somewhat, by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. However the appointment of Sajid Javid to DCLG will cause concern with those stakeholders in the North. He will have to be quick to engage with those stakeholders, and set out his vision for the future of Northern investment.
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