MPs in call to protect key funds for north

Wigan's economy suffered a devastating double blow as a flagship Government scheme appeared to be scrapped and a controversial retailer put a warehouse up for sale.

Thursday, 4th August 2016, 11:17 am
Updated Thursday, 4th August 2016, 1:19 pm
Lisa Nandy MP

Labour MPs from the borough pleaded with Prime Minister Theresa May not to pull the plug on the Northern Powerhouse after she appeared to switch Downing Street’s emphasis to boosting growth nationally.

The scheme to invest in the north was one of previous chancellor George Osborne’s key projects but Mrs May refused to commit to its future when questioned by MPs and appeared to suggest her focus was on improving the economy outside London and the south east.

That setback for Wigan came after under-fire business Sports Direct placed its Martland Park distribution centre on a property website for rent.

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Alarmed employees, who had been told nothing about such a move, immediately voiced concerns that this would lead to the facility shutting and jobs being lost.

The looming axe over the Northern Powerhouse prompted Wigan MP Lisa Nandy to write to the minister in charge of the project, Andrew Percy, demanding assurances the borough would receive funding it had been promised.

Labour said the lack of enthusiasm from the new cabinet for the Northern Powerhouse also puts major infrastructure schemes such as HS2 and HS3 into doubt.

Ms Nandy said: “The Northern Powerhouse project was the Government’s only response to years of under-investment in the North of England.

“If the new Prime Minister has pulled the rug out from under this project she needs to explain to people in Wigan what plan the Government has to boost our economy and give us the powers we need to make decisions.

“It makes no sense for decisions about local services and local investment to be made hundreds of miles away in London.

“I’ve written to the Northern Powerhouse Minister to demand answers following today’s reports. Our regional economy will be seriously harmed by this sort of dithering, uncertainty and delay.”

Leigh MP Andy Burnham said Mrs May’s comments about providing “an economy that works for all” at the first meeting of the new economy and industrial strategy committee was a dramatic change from her initial suggestion that specific funding for the north was a priority.

Mr Burnham said: “The new Prime Minister and her entire Cabinet were elected just over 12 months ago on a manifesto promise to build a Northern Powerhouse.

“If Theresa May is now ripping that up, it will be the biggest betrayal of people in the North of England since Margaret Thatcher tore the heart out of many of its industrial communities in the 1980s.

“She must clear up the confusion and confirm whether the many promises made to the North in the Tory manifesto still stand.”

However, Conservative MP for Bolton West Chris Green, whose constituency includes parts of Atherton, said the Northern Powerhouse was not being scrapped but extended elsewhere.

Hesaid: “This government is committed to rebalancing the economy across the UK, which is why we are looking at rolling out our ideas.”