What did we learn from the Northern Powerhouse debate?
This week we gained yet more insight into the Northern Powerhouse, as Sir Richard Leese and Cllr Sean Anstee, the Leader of Manchester City Council and Trafford Council respectively, explained what they believe is needed to ensure its long-term success.
The ultimate goal of the Northern Powerhouse, they agreed, is to improve the quality of life of people living in the North. This is to be done through investing in infrastructure and transport, which, according to Cllr Anstee, would “tackle a persistent productivity crisis.” Further devolution to individual regions would also enable regions to work together to attract investment into the North as a whole.
Both Sir Richard and Cllr Anstee noted that the concept is above party politics and, while they may have some differences, the model of co-operation between the different authorities of Greater Manchester is a benchmark for how devolution can work. Applied across the region, as Sir Richard put it, “If the North speaks with one voice, we will get the investment we need.”
The future election of a mayor for Greater Manchester has been seen by some as comparable to London, but there is much more to it than that. When other combined authorities, such as the Liverpool City Region and West Yorkshire, have their own metro mayors, they will be able to meet and discuss pan-Northern issues, such as transport, with each representing their own area. Rather than adding a level of bureaucracy, this will enable regions to co-operate and deliver public services and infrastructure more effectively.
While Greater Manchester has operated as a combined Authority since 1986, the other major regional cities in the North are further behind. Cllr Anstee and Sir Richard agreed that Manchester can help these areas, in part by taking the lead, but they won’t catch up overnight. Cllr Anstee mentioned that Manchester should not become the ‘Whitehall of the North’ and that the centralised governance structure should not be transferred along with the devolved powers, adding: “We need Merseyside, West Yorkshire and the North East to sign up to the Northern Powerhouse agenda too.”
Sir Richard highlighted that while Manchester may be seen as a leading regional city in the UK, when compared with major European cities it is in the ‘second division’, and substantial investment is needed to bring it in line with comparable cities on the Continent.
Improvements in infrastructure and transport links between Northern cities are also seen as a major part of the Northern Powerhouse. Sir Richard strongly advocated increased links between both cities in the North, and also the HS2 rail link to London. These improvements would enable a much broader labour base for which employers can attract the best and most skilled workers. The delayed improvements to the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester alone could double the labour market.
With regards to what will happen further down the line, Cllr Anstee and Sir Richard both said they see further devolution, including more spending powers. There is no doubt that the proposed improvements in infrastructure will require significant investment from the Government, but with the Chancellor investing a lot of political capital in the project, it is in the interest of all parties – in every sense – to ensure its success.
Manchester is in an excellent position to attract the investment required for innovative technology sectors, but it will need to continue to push for transport infrastructure improvements.
Manchester City Council has this week launched the consultation on its draft Manchester Residential Quality Guidance.
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