Comment

15.10.18

The Convention of the North

Source: PSE Oct/Nov 2018

Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, discusses the findings of the very first Convention of the North, which was held in Newcastle on 6 September.

The UK is the most politically centralised country in the Western world, and at the same time the most economically unbalanced.

While London booms, 47% of the UK population live in areas as poor as the poorer parts of the former East Germany, poorer than parts of Slovakia, Czech Republic and areas of Poland, and poorer than West Virginia and Mississippi. Many of those areas are in the north of England.

And the London-centric political narrative masquerading as a national policy becomes less and less convincing.

That is why in early September, business, civic and community leaders from across the north came together for the very first Convention of the North.

Because, let’s not forget, for all of the challenges we face, the north accounts for some 19 million people, more than the mighty London, and our joint economy is larger than that of Scotland or Wales.

Whilst this convention is very much the start of a process, rather than a final destination, it is difficult to overstate its significance.

By joining together to find common ground on a range of issues that are vital for our future prosperity, we are giving the north a powerful voice that central government will not be able to ignore.

Devolution has given some areas of the north, including the Liverpool City Region, the powers and funding to shape our own destiny, and we are taking full advantage.

But many areas of the north do not have the advantages of a devolution deal, and there are still too many areas of policy where we are dependent on the whim of central government.

To take just one current example, even the most casual observer could not fail to see the results of decades of underfunding of the north’s transport infrastructure, as rail travellers across the region endured a summer of chaos and disruption.

And whilst Northern did not handle the introduction of a new timetable at all well, the deeper root cause of the problem was chronic underinvestment in infrastructure by governments of all political stripes.

So one of the key things we agreed on at the Convention of the North was the necessity of greater investment in our railways, and specifically in making Northern Powerhouse Rail – or, as I call it, ‘Crossrail for the North’ – a reality.

Connectivity is a key driver for productivity and economic growth, so it is absolutely vital that the government stumps up and makes this vital project happen, starting with a new twin-track rail line from Liverpool to Manchester.

There was an overwhelming consensus at this inaugural meeting that the north has the skills and knowledge to plot the right course to tackle the challenges it faces and just needs central government to give us the powers and resources to make that happen.

Ensuring that the people of the north have the right skills for the 21st century was another key area of debate at the Newcastle meeting. Again, the government needs to give us the tools to do the job.

We know that around £2bn from the flagship apprenticeship levy sits unspent, and we call upon central government to allow that money to be spent locally, to provide the right apprenticeships for our working people and businesses.

The Convention of the North marks a key turning point in the relationship between central government and the regions. This may have been just one meeting, but it is clearly much more than that.

The north’s political, business, civic and community leaders have come together and made clear to government that they are no longer prepared to accept crumbs from the table.

And this is just the start. We have a wealth of talent and resources to draw on and, if we can take control of our own destiny, the north can be unstoppable.

 

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