Chancellor George Osborne gave a keynote speech today (23 June 2014), speaking of his vision to see Britain’s great northern cities be a northern “powerhouse” of the British economy.
Speaking in the Power Hall of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, the Chancellor pointed to evidence that the government’s long-term economic plan is delivering a recovery everywhere. But while the cities of the North are individually strong, they are not collectively strong enough. He said “We need a Northern Powerhouse. Not one city, but a collection of cities - sufficiently close to each that combined they can take on the world.”
The Chancellor set out the four ingredients to address this issue, by “joining our northern cities together – not physically, or into some artificial political construct – but by providing the transport connections they need; by backing their universities; by backing their creative clusters; and giving them the local power and control that a powerhouse economy needs.”
The Chancellor specifically identified connectivity between Northern cities as a big issue that is holding back potential. To complement the investment that the government is already undertaking across the North in the Northern Rail Hub, Strategic Road Network and High Speed 2, he wants the UK to think big.
He said: “Today I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds. Based on the existing rail route, but speeded up with new tunnels and infrastructure. A third high speed railway for Britain.”
The Chancellor asked that this proposal should feed in to David Higgins’ review of the second phase of HS2.
The north is blessed with outstanding universities that are leading the way in terms of cooperation between academic and industry. The government wants to see science here turned into products here - and into jobs and growth here. The government has created the new catapult technology centres and has increased science investment in every year of this parliament. That’s £7 billion for scientific investment in the next parliament alone.
Allied to the investment in science and transport, the Chancellor spoke of the need to actively build on the north’s world-class arts and culture scene so that innovators and entrepreneurs continue to be attracted to its creative, cultural, beautiful places.
The final thing you need in a Powerhouse is, of course Power. Citing the benefits that he feels London has received from having a strong, recognisable city leader.
The Chancellor said: “I want to start the conversation, and put the offer on the table – serious devolution of powers and budgets for any city that wants to move to a new model of governance – and have an elected Mayor. A Mayor for Manchester. A Mayor for Leeds. With powers similar to the Mayor of London.”
Summing up, the Chancellor said:
What I’ve set out today is a vision of a Northern Powerhouse – not to rival the South, but to be its brother in arms as we fight for Britain’s share of the global economy.
Let’s bring our Northern cities together, so they’re bigger and better than anyone can be alone. It won’t happen overnight – it’s a long-term plan for a country serious about its long-term economic future.
And I promise you this – I will work with anyone in any political party in any of these great cities to make this Northern Powerhouse a reality.
For this plan is bigger than any one of us – and it’s worth it for us all.
The Chancellor’s speech has been welcomed by a series of key figures:
Sir David Higgins:
HS2 will be a strategic intervention in the life of country, helping to re-balance our economy by relieving pressure in the South and better connecting the North, so it is much more than just a railway project. I am heartened by the energy and commitment with which Parliament on all sides, the Government and local authorities are seizing that opportunity to think more broadly and strategically about our future and how to realise the full potential that HS2 offers.
Jim O’Neill, chair of Cities Commission:
This is a really important speech by the Chancellor opening up the path to genuine devolution of power and ideas to our northern cities and in my role as Chair of the independent Cities Commission, I welcome his boldness in calling for many of these developments, ranging from faster , more effective communications between key located cities that will allow them to operate as large economic hub, to encouraging our best Universities to reach for grander ideas to benefit from their ongoing leadership in scientific research. These are all areas that our research and evidence building at the Commission are necessary to not only give more balanced growth, but would lay the groundwork for possibly boosting the country’s growth potential in the long term.
Let us now use economic recovery to spread wealth to every corner of our country. Nowhere is better placed to lead the rebalancing of the UK than the North. The combined might of great cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds and the combined talent of the people who live there must have the chance to lead this vital part of our country as earlier generations so proudly did in earlier times of British excellence.
Photo courtesy of Mari on Flickr, used under Creative Commons.