Autumn Statement: The northern powerhouse must be more than just Manchester

Ideas for a northern powerhouse are welcome. Now the chancellor must go further.

Ideas for a northern powerhouse are welcome. Now the chancellor must go further

We could all see it coming down the line but when it arrived, emphasis on a northern powerhouse in today’s Autumn Statement will have cheered businesses and city leaders in the winter of the Parliament. For so long we have cried out for a clear strategy to rebalance the national economy and at last some of the building blocks are being put into place.

Although trainsets are often the preferred means of driving growth, it was right that the chancellor should emphasise investment in research in materials science, high value manufacturing and our ageing population.

Each of these will build upon existing strengths, for too long unrecognised in the corridors of Whitehall. Each will require joint-working between Northern universities so reinforces the idea that the Northern powerhouse will only happen if collaboration comes to the fore.

This collaboration will be made all the more possible by this week’s infrastructure announcements which will bring down journey times between northern cities and also strengthen the much-needed interconnectivity within city-regions.

The chancellor offered further warm words for a so-called HS3 link across the Pennines, but these still need to be translated into clear investment proposals and do not yet feature in the National Infrastructure Pipeline figures.

The new pipeline figures published this week do show some rebalancing but no fundamental change with London and the South East still set to gobble up 60 per cent of all public-involved infrastructure funding in the years ahead compared with just 1 per cent in the North East.

It’s also important to note that Public Sector Net Investment is still just 3.8 per cent of public spending and is forecast to fall to 3.4 per cent by 2020.

If there is any disappointment then it is the fact that other cities have yet to follow Manchester and broker their own devolution deals. It is right that they should take the necessary time to ensure their deals meet their local aspirations, but they must not lose the devolutionary momentum generated by the Scottish referendum and we must see plans for progress outside of the big cities too.

Building blocks these may well be, but there is still plenty of track for leaders – local and national – to go further. With the general election now firmly on the horizon, ideas for a northern powerhouse represent a platform upon which an even bigger crowd should gather.

Ed Cox is director of IPPR North

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