Devolution not as important as investment in building Northern Powerhouse, leaders say

Business leaders in the north of England value foreign investment and support for transport over devolution of planning and business rates powers to build the Northern Powerhouse, a new survey has found.

The survey of 245 delegates at February’s Northern Powerhouse International conference in Manchester, attended by PSE, found that only 43% felt that giving local authorities control over setting business rates was very important to boosting the north’s economy and independence, and 57% felt local autonomy over planning policy and decisions was important.

In contrast, almost 90% called transport infrastructure investment within the north very important, 80% supported investment in workforce training and 62% said attracting foreign investment was very important.

Speakers at the conference also said the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse must go further than existing city devolution deals, including by creating a single pan-northern body similar to Transport for the North to be responsible for devolution and a dedicated ‘Northern Powerhouse Fund’ to encourage investment in the region.

Keith Griffiths, managing director of the conference, said: “We need to accelerate the delivery of the Northern Powerhouse vision. Business must be involved in this process and it cannot be just a Government-owned plan.

“So many have waited decades to have an opportunity to deliver once in a lifetime change and progress for the region, we must move forward swiftly.”

When asked what was important to the area where they live, responses from delegates were even lower, with only 40% saying control over business rates was very important and 37% supporting local control over planning.

The government’s proposals to devolve full control over business rates to local councils have come under attack recently. Both the LGA and the DCLG joint steering committee and leaders of the councils where schemes have been piloted, including in Liverpool and Manchester, have warned that a safety net will be needed to ensure that the scheme does not leave councils in low-income areas worse off.

However, today’s report found business leaders were broadly behind the goals of the Northern Powerhouse, with almost 60% saying they felt the economic condition of the north of England would improve in the next year, whereas only 47% predicted growth for the UK as a whole.

In addition, nearly 70% agreed or strongly agreed that the current government’s policies would boost the economy of the north, and 76% were very or fairly optimistic that the Northern Powerhouse could be realised.

An Ipsos MORI poll of the general public conducted before the conference found less support for the Northern Powerhouse. Only half of respondents had heard of the concept, only 33% thought it was certain or likely that those in the future would think it was worth it and just 23% thought it would have an impact in their lifetime.

A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that despite investment in the Northern Powerhouse, 10 of the UK’s 12 most struggling cities are still in the north.


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