England

What next for the Northern Powerhouse?

Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool
Image caption The Northern Powerhouse initiative aims to encourage economic growth outside of the English capital

The former chancellor George Osborne peppered media interviews with references to the "Northern Powerhouse", but what's next for the idea since his departure?

In a 2014 speech, Mr Osborne said: "I'm here to talk to you today about what we can do to make the cities of the north a powerhouse for our economy."

The project, which he branded as his own initiative, was aimed at ending the UK's economic reliance on London.

Following Theresa May's Cabinet Reshuffle, Conservative MP Andrew Percy has been appointed as the new Northern Powerhouse minister. So what's the future of this key Conservative manifesto pledge?

"We're not going to miss George Osborne's personal leadership on the Northern Powerhouse," said Julie Dore, Labour leader of Sheffield City Council.

"What people forget is that northern council leaders have been working on this idea long before the former chancellor came up with the slogan."

It's certainly true that councils in the North have a chequered history of trying to work together, but Mr Osborne's slick promotion of the Northern Powerhouse as a brand resonated widely.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Northern Powerhouse project was very much branded as George Osborne's own initiative

Graham Robb, chairman of the North East Institute of Directors, said it had become an internationally-useful "marketing tool".

He said: "That slogan has had a big impact, especially with businesses buying into it.

"In March we commissioned a survey of people across the North and found that only 20% had a negative opinion of the concept.

"I think this underlines the strength of the idea and the brand and I hope we don't lose that."

So has the Northern Powerhouse policy made a difference?

The government says foreign investment in the north of England has doubled over the past two years, with the number of unemployed dropping by 127,000.

But Irwin Mitchell research found that only two of the fastest growing towns and cities in England are in the North.

Mr Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, heard of his new ministerial role while attending a Bar Mitzvah and proceeded to celebrate with a McDonald's meal.

He said: "I'm a proud northerner. I've lived here all my life and for me when you get out of London it's clear that our economy hasn't been working for everyone.

"I want to work with the Department for Transport on getting High Speed Rail 3 to connect Liverpool to Hull and I want to ensure more people have got access to a proper high speed broadband connection."

Image caption Andrew Percy, Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole in East Yorkshire, has been appointed the new Northern Powerhouse minister

At the moment, 11 areas across England have signed deals with the government to devolve powers away from Westminster with big city regions such as Manchester and Liverpool set to elect new mayors.

Mr Percy expects all those deals to be honoured, but he wouldn't be drawn on whether the 27 other areas who have submitted bids for their own devolution packages will get the same treatment.

"I've just got the job so I can't comment in too much detail, but what I can say is that I want to see as many people as possible benefit from the process of devolution," he said.

Talking to those within the corridors of power, they say they expect the current devolution plans to be implemented, while the rhetoric about the Northern Powerhouse will now be quietly dialled down.

Shortly before Mrs May was told she was going to be prime minister, she called for a plan "to help not one or even two of our great regional cities but every single one of them".

"I'll be relieved if the government stops just talking about Manchester," said Ms Dore.

The Northern Powerhouse 2.0 lives on. You might just not hear the government talk about it as much in the future.

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