North West Square | The Prime Minister’s commitment to upgrade is not up to the region’s ambitions


“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” said Boris Johnson

Sarah Townsend

Boris Johnson has reaffirmed his commitment to rebalance the country by giving more power to local leaders and investing in regional infrastructure, but the North West remains skeptical.

“What was missing was credible action that would make a real difference in the reality of life for people here in the north of England,” said Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

In a speech on Thursday, the prime minister said the government wanted to “rewrite the regulations” on decentralization, with “new agreements for the counties”.

“There is no reason why our great counties cannot benefit from the same powers that we have vested in municipal leaders so that they can take charge of upgrading local infrastructure, such as the bypass that they want. desperately to end congestion and pollution and unlock new jobs or new buses. routes … because they have the ability to control [them].

“Or, they can improve the skills of people in their area because they know what local businesses need,” Johnson said.

There is no “one size fits all”, the prime minister added – directly elected mayors for countries are a possibility, but devolution of authority for a “specific local goal”, such as improving local transport services, is another. He urged local leaders to come up with proposals to improve their communities and said the government would consider them.

The Tories first pledged to bring the country to level in their manifesto for the 2019 election, which saw them win a handful of ‘red wall’ parliamentary seats previously held by Labor in the North and Midlands.

The Leveling Up policy involves investing in transport, infrastructure and skills to bridge regional economic gaps, and it has seen, among other initiatives, the launch of the £ 4.8 billion Leveling Up fund announced in the last November expenditure review; a review of the Treasury Green Paper to balance project finance decisions outside London and the South East, and the creation of a Leeds-based infrastructure bank.

However, critics say that almost two years after Johnson’s reign, the program has failed to achieve any tangible results. A report from the Center for Cities think tank in January warned that the pandemic would make upgrading in difficult areas of the country almost four times harder than it otherwise would have been.

In May, Johnson hired Harborough MP Neil O’Brien, chairman of the Independent Leveling Task Force, who previously served as special advisor to former Chancellor George Osborne and ex-Prime Minister Theresa May, to advise Whitehall on region upgrade policy.

The government is expected to release more details on its plan in September, but for now details remain fragile and northern leaders have expressed disappointment with the current offer.

Andy Burnham

Mayor General Andy Burnham. Credit: via GMCA

Burnham said: “Much of the Prime Minister’s analysis today was correct and I do not disagree with it in any way – far too often people’s chances of life and health are always determined by the zip code in which they were born. But what was missing was credible. action that would make a real difference in the lives of people here in the north of England.

“You don’t level up by throwing money around towns here and there and creating a chewing gum task force. You do this by supporting city-regions like ours to create a London-style transport network with London-level fares that will unite cities and transform the lives of the 2.8 million people who live here.

“I urge the government to give us the power and resources we need and to make leveling a reality here in the North.”

Cllr John Merry, Deputy Mayor of Salford and Chairman of Key Cities, a multi-stakeholder network of 25 cities in England and Wales, said the group “welcomes the government’s renewed commitment to a flexible decentralization and local leadership… but would have liked to find out more about exactly how he intends to achieve an inclusive and balanced economy for all regions of the country.

“This requires non-competitive, long-term funding based on objective criteria regarding deprivation, local needs and opportunities for skills, jobs and growth.”

He highlighted the key cities Future of urban centers report this year which sets out the political proposals for upgrading that it wishes to see adopted. These include agreements with cities and further decentralization, training and skills initiatives, as well as more location-specific funding for housing and regeneration.

Kevin Tully, Managing Director of Liverpool-based Tulway Engineering, added: “After Covid, the upgrade program goes far beyond improving conditions for those most economically disadvantaged. We are committed to making the Northwest an industrial hub, and we hope the government is too.

“The mayors of the Liverpool City and Greater Manchester area are good examples that decentralization is delivering results and as we all aspire to take it to the next level, I would love to see the manufacturing industry rise up and lead the way in terms of key topics, including youth. jobs, the green agenda and skills development, to name a few.

Tully also said the £ 100 billion in infrastructure investment pledged by the Tories in 2019 “must be evenly distributed across construction, transport, education, sport, the green agenda and more,” to ensure that we can all progress towards a better quality of life ”.

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