Investment into the North has never matched up to the Northern Powerhouse rhetoric. Newcastle’s Nick Forbes is on the money (excuse the pun) when he said this week that you can’t pass the buck “without passing the bucks”, after Chris Grayling suggested that the North “takes control” of its transport destiny. A hastily circulated document at Wednesday’s Leeds transport summit saw attendees commit to working with a ‘council of the North’, a forum that will represent the region on issues of common concern and has had a spluttering start up to now. The idea, not long ago ridiculed, may well turn to reality. Grayling might get what he wished for.
Analysis of the Metro Mayors’ first 100 days shows that those who have been most successful have been able to quickly form good relationships with local leaders, keeping potential enemies close to them. That was (and still is) undoubtedly their immediate goal along with visible activity in office. Their next challenge is to look beyond their city-regions, as collectively they will have far more clout. The Leeds summit was a good start, but such endeavours will make little progress without cross-party support, meaning the buy-in of Northern Tories. We’re glad to be supporting transport and connectivity fringes at both party conferences, where we’ll be asking Northern mayors how they plan to work together.
Likewise, although the devo deals have largely bypassed MPs, mayors must not miss the opportunity to make use of a powerful lobby group for their interests, in forums such as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Greater Manchester. Let’s not forget, there is a minority government and there are 40 Tory MPs in the North. It’s time for them to stand together and fight for investment into their often long deprived communities.
The next 100 days takes us to the Autumn budget, and it is time for people to come together and change the status quo for the North. Any campaign needs to go beyond the Labour clique of leaders signing open letters, and to one that has all party, wholesale support, and not only involve key bodies such as Transport for the North, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, but make sure that business, the third sector and trade union voice of the North is heard loud and clear in Westminster.