Northern Futures Project

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24th March 2015.

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Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Liberal Democrat, Cheadle 11:30 am, 24th March 2015

What progress he has made on the Northern Futures project; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Before I turn to my answer, I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying how shocked I am to have heard about the very serious air accident that appears to have happened in the Alps in the last couple of hours, with the reported very large loss of life. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of everybody in all parts of the House are with the families and friends of those who were on board.

Northern Futures has been a great success. It has helped us to engage thousands of people across the country in a debate about how we rebalance the economy and has helped to generate the political consensus needed to tackle the over-centralisation of power in Whitehall. Specifically, it paved the way for more than £7 billion of much needed road and rail investment announced in the autumn statement and for a set of radical decentralisation deals with Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Liberal Democrat, Cheadle

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Northern Futures is a major part of the coalition Government’s efforts to rebalance the economy after decades of over-investment in and focus on London and the south-east. Constituencies such as Cheadle, where unemployment is now just 1.4%, are key beneficiaries. Does he agree that this will be one of this Administration’s greatest legacies?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Yes, I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. After such a long period of over-centralisation of decision making in Whitehall, the fact that this coalition Government have finally been able to set Greater Manchester, Cheadle and other parts of the country free from excessive Whitehall control is a great achievement that has been accompanied by a rebalancing of the economy. Sixty per cent. of the net growth in jobs has taken place outside London and the south-east. That contrasts very favourably with Labour’s record.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

Is the Deputy Prime Minister actually going to tell me, or the people in Yorkshire where I represent the town of Huddersfield, that this late conversion to the northern powerhouse and all this talk is anything more than pie in the sky? The Government should have been doing something about the northern regions in the past five years.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats

What an absurd thing to say for a member of a party whose Government presided over a decline in manufacturing that was three times faster than under Margaret Thatcher, and who saw the north-south divide open ever wider during the 13 years of the Labour Administration. We have not just started this in the later stage of this Parliament; we have introduced city deals and local growth deals, we have devolved more funding, and we have devolved control over business rates—something never, ever undertaken by Labour.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

Health devolution will allow decision makers to prioritise health inequalities in Manchester, but does my right hon. Friend agree that health professionals in the NHS need to be involved in the detailed discussions to make sure that we get the best deal for patients in our local NHS?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Yes, of course. Any change in something as complex and important as the NHS in any part of the country needs to be done with the fullest possible participation of the health professionals who will be delivering that change. I regularly encounter—I am sure that my hon. Friend has found the same—health professionals who complain about the straitjacket of decision making from Whitehall and who will welcome the idea that more decisions can be taken locally to suit the health needs of local communities.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

First, may I echo the Deputy Prime Minister’s words about the tragic air crash in the Alps?

Over the past five years, average cuts to local authorities have been £80 per person, but in the Deputy Prime Minister’s city of Sheffield the figure is almost three times higher, and in my city of Liverpool it is almost five times higher. Will he take this final opportunity at the Dispatch Box to admit to the House that the Conservative Government whom he has supported for five years is no friend of the north?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I know that the hon. Gentleman’s party is in perpetual denial about the economic mess it bequeathed this Government. The problem is that, because of mismanagement on Labour’s watch, the economy blew up, the banks, which it was sucking up to, held a gun to our heads, and 6% was wiped off the value of our national economy, which took £2,400 off every household in this country. That is what the Labour party did. We have had to pick up the pieces. Of course, given that local public spending represents about a quarter of the total, savings need to be made locally as well as nationally, but that is a direct consequence of Labour’s mismanagement of the national economy.