Mike Laycock examines the new Manifesto for the North - and asks York politicians, business leaders and academics for their reaction to this ‘game-changing’ bid to power up the north of England.

IT is said to be a game-changing and bold new vision for how the North of England’s full potential can be unleashed and it will be presented to the parties asking for your votes at the General Election next month.

But what does the Manifesto for the North actually call for – and what do local political and business leaders, and academics, think of it?

Well, it basically calls for clean growth, devolution, transport, education, investment and trade, and the demands come in the form of a five-point plan:

  • Local control of education and training, skills provision that is systematically connected to the North’s businesses and growth needs, creating opportunity for all our people.
  • A commitment to rebalancing the economy as a formal HM Treasury objective, delivering transformational investment to power up the North, a formal commitment to rebalancing in the Green Book, and Office for Budget Responsibility measurement of progress towards this objective.
  • A transport budget for the North, enabling full delivery of the Transport for the North plan and supporting the devolution of control and shared accountability for the region’s rail network.
  • Ownership of, and freedom to lead, investment and trade activities to drive export led growth, with a greater scale of investment to level up the North’s export and inward investment activities.
  • Backing the North to lead the green industrial revolution, harnessing and investing in its prime capability in renewable energy, decarbonising industry, retrofitting existing housing stock and building new homes to the highest standards.

The manifesto has been produced by the Convention of the North and NP11 – a group of all 11 Northern Local Enterprise Partnerships – representing the North’s business drive and collective political will to influence major changes.

Andrew Digwood, president of the York & North Yorkshire Chamber and a partner at Rollits Solicitors in York, said the manifesto ‘sets out an ambitious agenda for rebalancing the UK economy.’

He said: “The manifesto for the North rightly acknowledges that rebalancing the national economy requires control over multiple levers and that growth strategies relating to housing, transport, education and skills, trade and investment must be woven together.

“Devolution presents a significant opportunity for our region to be able to do this at scale but based on local understanding of the challenges faced and the opportunity to provide tailored solutions which will have the most impact.

“Businesses often do not see the administrative boundaries of local government and Whitehall departments.”

York council leader and Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for York Outer, Keith Aspden, claimed that for far too long, consecutive Conservative Government’s had ignored the region and instead, concentrated investment in the South of England, leading to crises in local health services, transport infrastructure and schools.

“It is time that this inequality was addressed and that is exactly what the ‘Manifesto for the North’ aims to do,” he said.

Green deputy council leader Andy D’Agorne said the North needed more investment in green industry and better public transport, for example in speeding up the west-east rail routes such as Manchester to Leeds and York, rather than investing in HS2.

Dr Christopher Kirkland, lecturer in politics at York St John University, said that the then Chancellor George Osborne announced in 2014 that the North needed a Northern Powerhouse, and many of the points raised here were similar to the problems identified at the time.

“Despite the rhetoric of the Northern Powerhouse, government decisions such as the downgrading of the Leeds-Manchester rail electrification and the performances of train operating companies demonstrate that progress has been hard to come by,” he said.

“These ‘game changers’, if implemented, could offer long term goals and solutions to some of the structural problems of the North.

“Yet they still leave some questions unanswered, such as the relationship between rail travel and other forms of public transport (particularly bus services which are often seen as lifelines of rural communities) and questions remain as to how these can be successfully implemented in the context of a devolution agenda that has so far focused solely upon towns and cities.”

The manifesto comes six months after The Press and other regional newspapers launched a Power up the North campaign, calling for the Government to invest in the north and narrow the north-south divide.