George Osborne announced additional funding for science and culture in the North in his autumn statement, but Michael Dawson of Campaign for the North, a political movement aiming for devo max for the region, says he didn’t go far enough.
In the wake of the Autumn Statement, serious questions still need to be answered surrounding the future of the North. In short, the Chancellor’s proposals simply do not go far enough and are lacking the input of the very people he claims they will benefit: Northerners.
While we at the Campaign for the North welcome the creation of The Factory Manchester and the Hub for Ageing Science, the Chancellor has clearly opted for style over substance.
Take improvements to the North’s transport networks. Roads in the North East have been blighted for decades by a lack of attention from central government. So, it’s unsurprising that the A1, which will supposedly benefit from changes proposed in the Autumn Statement, has been described as the “most dangerous stretch of road in Britain.”
Indeed, the lack of connectivity between the North East and Scotland is abysmal, an issue made worse by Mark Garnier’s recent statement that the Conservative party has no need to attract “dog-end voters in the outlying regions.”
Therefore, the Chancellor’s commitments to improve the North East’s road system should have been a welcome change. However, as with many of his plans, they are far from comprehensive. Designs to revamp the A1 miss out large stretches of road around Berwick and the Scottish Borders, still leaving residents of the far North East in dire need of improved transport links. Considering that interconnectivity is one of the Northern Powerhouse’s key goals, such poor attention to detail will inspire little confidence in Osborne’s grand designs.
The devil is in the detail and, instead of pursuing in-depth transport improvements for the entire Northern region, Osborne champions HS3; a headline grabbing, flagship policy condemned by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) as a “vanity project.” On the one hand, we agree with such sentiments. HS3 is almost certainly a pre-election gimmick. Despite the Autumn Statement, we are still in the dark on this project and will have to wait until March 2015 for any real information.
Nevertheless, HS3 could be very beneficial, but only if the construction phase benefits Northern companies and boosts high-tech manufacturing in the region. There should be a firm commitment to ensure that local companies are encouraged to compete for tenders for everything from infrastructure to rolling stock. It is for this reason that we welcome the creation of the Sir Henry Royce Institute and see the Chancellor’s desire to promote the relationship between industry and higher education as one of the few highlights of his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plans.
Having said that, there is no sign that the coalition will address the chronic abundance of elected councillors who burden local government throughout the North of England. This is built upon by Andrew Rosthorn of the Lancashire Magazine, who states “whereas the last defective reorganisation of local government was at least researched by a committee, there seems to have been no research done on the Devo-Manc idea other than by people in Manchester and Westminster with a direct personal interest in the outcome.”
One could argue, however, that research was indeed carried out. In 2012, the people of Manchester voted against a Mayor for Manchester City Council. In fact, the Prime Minister himself declared that the creation of a mayor was an issue that had to be decided by the people. Therefore, if a precedent has been established, then why not adhere to it? Forcing a ‘metro mayor’ upon Greater Manchester seems more so an affront to democracy than a progressive policy intended to benefit ordinary people.
In the Autumn Statement, the creation of metro mayors is described as being based upon the need for “strong civic leadership”. The statement goes on to declare that such leadership ensures a “high quality of life” for a city’s inhabitants and attracts entrepreneurs and innovators. Yet the archetypal metro mayor, Boris Johnson, has proven to be a spectacular failure. London is the most financially unequal city in the Western World and Johnson has been unable to deliver on many of the policies in his manifestos. From reducing homelessness to affordable housing and cutting the price of fares, the Mayor of London has consistently broken his promises to the people of London. Therefore, there is no assurance that any such mayor in Manchester would not have an equally woeful track record.
It appears, as usual, that the North must march to the tune of a politician from the South East, whether we like it or not. No better is this highlighted than by the Chancellor’s commitment to set up a long-term investment fund from tax revenues from shale. Yet the only people who have the right to take this decision are the people of the communities that will be affected by such policies. Furthermore, if these communities were to give these plans the go-ahead, then they should be the sole benefactors of any financial gain. It is exceptionally undemocratic to expose communities to the potentially dangerous procedures involved in shale gas exploration without their prior consent.
However, in light of the dismal borrowing projections, poor growth forecasts and low wages that seem to be part and parcel of the government’s “long-term” economic plan; it seems likely that the architect of these ideas, George Osborne, will be unable to finish what he started. If anything is clear from yesterday’s Autumn Statement, it is that Northerners and Northerners alone can be the only ones to decide the future of the North.