Levelling up and boosting economic growth in the North

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First published in ABP's Report magazine – Summer 2020
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Henri Murison, Director at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, discusses practical ways in which the government can rebalance the economy and create economic growth in North as part of the UK’s economic recovery following COVID-19.

The Northern Powerhouse can play a major role in the UK’s economic recovery from the coronavirus. Focusing on green energy investments, providing targeted educational support for the North’s most disadvantaged families and communities, and funding major infrastructure improvement in both transport and connectivity could allow the government to level up the UK economy.

To help with this, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has assembled five recommendations for how the government can rebalance the economy and create thousands of jobs and significant economic growth by maximising the potential of the North. As a global outward-facing country, trading successfully, the UK needs the Northern Powerhouse with its strengths in manufacturing, digital, health innovation and energy.

The proposals are backed by a cross- section of major UK businesses and supported by polling of more than 1,700 people across the North. Results show high levels of support for greater local control in the form of devolution from communities from the north and south banks of the Humber to Cumbria. More than 80% support increasing funding for training and education and around one in two back investment in roads, rail and fibre broadband.

The results also reveal only one in five Northerners are satisfied about the availability of good jobs, and over half of those who gave an opinion supported increasing taxes or reducing spending in other areas to fund investment in rebuilding jobs and infrastructure in the aftermath of the lockdown.

Central to the economic recovery is improving northern infrastructure. The High Speed North project is expected to set out a way forward for both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail to be delivered. But there are a number of road and rail upgrade schemes – such as improving the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester, upgrading the West Cumbrian freight line, and enhancing the A66 across the Pennines, as the Transport Secretary recently confirmed which must be started immediately, providing shovel-ready schemes to get the economy moving. These will improve freight as well as passenger services, enabling us to maximise use of our northern ports, most importantly on the Humber.

“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has assembled five recommendations for how the government can rebalance the economy and create thousands of jobs and significant economic growth by maximising the potential of the North.”

The five NPP proposals are:

  1. Providing training for those who have lost their jobs or left school during the coronavirus lockdown: devolve all of skills funding to existing Mayors alongside accelerating devolution to areas in North which are still waiting for it, including Cheshire and Warrington, and Cumbria.
  2. Providing extra teaching for children who have fallen behind in school work during the crisis: initial £300 million of funding across England in addition to better targeting of projected higher pupil premium spend next year, from free school meal entitlement.
  3. Green energy jobs: roll out of Small Modular Reactor factory-based building programme, establishment of at least one carbon capture and storage cluster in Northern Powerhouse and expansion of jobs in wind, tidal and battery storage supply chains for major schemes.
  4. Building new railways and roads: shovel-ready projects to create and secure jobs and cut carbon emissions in the longer term. Specifically, accelerate elements of High Speed North, such as Leeds to Newcastle and Sheffield to Manchester, as well as starting on new lines between Leeds and Manchester/Liverpool where possible.
  5. Providing faster broadband to every household: full fibre to the premises accelerated for left behind towns, from Winsford to Whitehaven, Castleford to Consett, alongside 5G rollout.