1. Government
August 3, 2016

Does Britain's new government still believe in the Northern Powerhouse?

By Kirstie McCrum

Before Brexit, Manchester was given control of its own health budget worth £6bn, Leeds celebrated a £20m investment in its train station, and the HS3 high-speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester was, according to March’s Budget, well on its way thanks to a £60m funding injection.

Following the vote, there was a flash of uncertainty, with some doubt over funding to be provided, for example in Newcastle, where the North East’s devolution deal depended largely on EU funding.

Some confusion as the dust settles is to be expected. But the notion that it would be settling on George Osborne’s empty seat in the Cabinet took many northerners by surprise.

With the chancellor’s time brutally cut short, the man who promised £13bn on transport alone across the Northern Powerhouse at the Spending Review and drove the project for the past two years was no longer around to protect it.

In isolation, May’s speech on 13 July certainly seems like it’s on the same page as previously revealed Northern Powerhouse plans.

The incumbent PM spoke of fighting injustices, a must when it comes to regional and financial disparity, and of giving people more control over their own lives – something devolved governmental organisations have been crying out for.

But May’s voting record doesn’t look like it will be much practical help for the North.

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She voted to reduce central funding for local government in 2015 and again in February of this year. While this move may promise local autonomy, it effectively leaves poor Northern councils reliant on their poorer residents, while wealthy Southern ones become wealthier still.

Her well-known tough stance on immigration could also have a knock-on effect on red brick university towns like Liverpool and Newcastle, which rely on a ready pool of international students.

Meanwhile, in practical terms she took less than a week to merge the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills with the Department of Energy. It remains to be seen how the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will pick up ongoing projects.

May’s speech hinged upon one overriding pledge: “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.”

But so far, the Northern Powerhouse, which is chiefly about allowing the 15m living in the North of England to really “take back control”, has stalled.

May has appointed a junior minister, Andrew Percy, to oversee the Northern Powerhouse. But this is a demotion when you remember the previous chief engineer was nothing less than the chancellor.

Two days before May became the country’s 76th leader, she pledged in a speech in Birmingham to oversee “a plan to help not one or even two of our great regional cities but every single one of them”.

Let’s hope it’s a vision she’s still as committed to now she’s in Number 10.

This article was previously published by our sister site, The Staggers.

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