Friday, November 30, 2012

Developing the North

I was interested to read about a study published by a body called "The Northern Economic Futures Commission" which has spent 18 months gathering evidence about how economic growth in the North pf England could be accelerated and how this could help the British economy as a whole.

The commission report points out that over the last decade the three northern regions - the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East - have been responsible for a fifth of the UK's prosperity, but London alone contributed more than a quarter.

And while countries like Germany, Holland and Spain have several economically-powerful cities, the UK just has London.

But above all it was concerned with how the north could help the British economy return to significant levels of growth.

Why, the report asks, can't the likes of Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester be as economically significant as Stuttgart, Rotterdam or Barcelona?
Barcelona skyline

The commission says it wants northern cities to be as economically significant as Barcelona

The commission's solution is to move power and funding north and provide more support for transport in the Northern regions. They recommend that a new body - Transport for the North - should be formed to oversee the northern rail network.
But the power and money grab wouldn't stop there.

The commission wants a fighting fund for economic growth to be created by handing local transport, housing, skills, regeneration and development funding directly to the north's Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Under the recommendations £13bn of housing benefit and funding for house-building would also be transferred out of Whitehall and into the north. Local employers would get a greater say over skills policy and the number of apprenticeships would double to 60,000 by 2015.

A Northern Innovation Council could get £1bn from the proceeds of sale of 4G mobile licences, and there would be a special northern section of a UK investment bank.

You can read more about the proposals in a piece by Richard Moss, political editor for BBC North East and Cumbria, which you can find on the BBC website here.

I have a lot of sympathy for many of the ideas in this report  but there is an essential note of caution - it is essential that any such plan looks at the whole of the North, and not just the big Northern cities. I have not forgotten that the last government produced a huge plan for the North of England called "The Northern Way" with all sorts of optimistic plans. There were however two big problems

1) Large parts of the North were almost completely left out of the plans. For example out of all the hundreds of pages and proposals in "The Northern Way" there was virtually nothing for any part of Cumbria

2) Most of it never happened.

I hope some of the ideas put forward by the Northern Economic Futures Commission do happen, and that they benefit the whole region, (including Cumbria) and not just certain parts of it.

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