Power up the North: Uniting to urge political parties to take action so our region can thrive

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament

Today the Wigan Post joins forces with other rival publishers to challenge Britain’s main political parties to commit to a package of policy measures to turbo-charge the North’s economy.

The new collaboration between JPI Media, Newsquest and Reach newspapers and websites comes exactly one year after the launch of the award-winning One North campaign in the wake of unprecedented chaos on the region’s railways.

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The collective voice – and strength – of the North’s titles compelled the Government to take immediate action on behalf of the millions of passengers who suffered unnecessary and unforeseen travel misery.

Now, at a time of unprecedented political uncertainty, we are calling on the main parties – and those who aspire to lead them – to spell out what they intend to do, and how they will work with others, to narrow the North-South divide.

Wigan Council has experienced some of the harshest cuts in the country during the Government’s austerity drive, and have had to make many unpalatable choices to balance the books.

With nominations closing today in the Tory party contest to succeed Theresa May – and with every likelihood of a general election being called in the near future in an attempt to break the

Parliamentary paralysis – every day of dither and delay risks leaving the North at an even greater disadvantage.

Politics can’t stay in limbo like this. Decisions need to be made and new infrastructure built so this region can attract national and international investment. There must be a new commitment by all parties to put this region first and start reversing decades of under-inverstment in key services.

And in the wake of a succession of critical reports and interventions by well-respected policy-makers and political grandees, we’re calling on each party – and leadership nominee in the

Tory party’ case – to give formal backing to the Northern Powerhouse policy agenda and set out detailed plans to:

Develop a bespoke Industrial Strategy for the North of England to enable every sector of the economy, from manufacturing to farming, to flourish;

Provide Transport for the North with full policy – and financial – powers to overhaul the region’s road and rail network as a part of a wider environmental plan;

Undertake to make Northern Powerhouse Rail a national priority;

Advance devolution in Yorkshire, the North East and North West so more decisions are taken locally;

Make additional investment available for the North’s schools, colleges and universities to boost skills training;

Set out a programme to build a new generation of social housing, and affordable homes;

Accelerate investment in the North’s digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, and support creative industries.

Though not exhaustive, this seven-point plan is in addition to each party explaining, clearly and candidly, their approach to Brexit, HS2 and key public services, like the NHS, social care, education and policing, which matter so much to the 15 million people who live and work here.

The Wigan Post and other newspapers are not alone in believing that the North has been treated as the ‘poor relation’ for too long by successive governments, Tory and Labour alike, who have allowed social, health and economic inequalities between this region – and the more prosperous London and South East – to widen.

Voters do too – and so, too, do leading public figures like Lord Bob Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service and ex-Sheffield City Council chief executive, who has warned that the yawning economic divide between London and the North will take 50 years to reverse and is now comparable to the gulf which existed in Germany after the Berlin Wall’s fall.

Politicians like Lord Michael Heseltine, a former deputy Prime Minister, who has said growth plans for the North must extend beyond major cities to every town and village.

And business leaders like CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn who, writing on behalf of captains of industry, has called for “cross-party” co-operation on business policy as well as “compromise, consensus and honesty to resolve the Brexit impasse quickly”.

If this is insufficient to convince London’s political establishment about the need to invest in the Northern Powerhouse, here are some stark statistics that might persuade them to think more favourably towards this region.

As well as being home to 15 million people, this region employs a quarter of England’s workforce (7.2 million people); is the UK’s largest manufacturing region and generates a reputed £343bn a year – sufficient to make it Europe’s ninth largest economy were the North to be a country.

This newspaper – and its partners – remains committed to speaking up for our readers. Now Britain’s major parties and aspiring premiers are duty-bound to confirm whether or not they share One North’s aims, objectives and vision for a prosperous and fairer future for everyone who lives and works here – or will continue to put London and the South’s interests first.

Makerfield Yvonne Fovargue MP said: “I applaud the region’s local newspapers on the launch of this campaign.

“The Northern Powerhouse is about boosting the local economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets.

“But for this to be a success it requires political will and cross party support across the north. Despite all the bluster and fanfare of George Osborne’s announcement, his, and successive Tory Governments, have done little to address the huge disparity in our regional economies in the North.”

MP Jo Platt in her column in the Wigan Observer said: “We really do need a radical and transformative government in Westminster that will be unafraid to entrust us locally with the powers and investment we need to rebuild our towns from the ground up.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who has long campaigned for more power and resources for the North and is a founder member of the think tank Centre for Towns, said: “Every promise that was made to the North has been broken.

“Our railways are in chaos, our buses have been decimated, our public services have been slashed and the jobs created in our fastest growing industries go overwhelmingly to London and the South East.

“The Northern Powerhouse has become a running joke in our northern towns and cities. It’s great to see the Wigan Post teaming up with other proud northern titles to speak up loudly, with one voice, and force the new Prime Minister to listen.”