Northern England: Opportunity and Productivity - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:28 pm on 12th January 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 12:28 pm, 12th January 2017

My Lords, I am glad to be following the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and agree considerably with his remarks. I will not be as demonstrative in what I have to say and will limit my remarks to the part of the region which I know best, Yorkshire. I declare three interests. First, I love living in Yorkshire and have a very personal interest in the debate as a resident. Secondly, I am an elected representative for one of its towns. Thirdly, like the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association—and, I suppose, fourthly, I intend to be unremitting in making the case for the north.

The picture painted in the IPPR report, The State of the North, is one I recognise. The analysis reflects much of what was done by the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, 10 years ago. The analysis then, as now, is that the challenges for Yorkshire are poor connectivity, relatively low skills and inadequate investment in new businesses to transform the region from its 19th-century industrial past. The sad fact is that since the demise of Yorkshire Forward, there has been no significant progress in addressing those challenges. The consequence is that that the lives of 5 million people in Yorkshire and the 15 million in the north as a whole have been blighted. The challenges are clear. Poor connectivity within the region and to the rest of the country is a drag on investment. Major transport investment is part of the solution, and the comparators with London are stark. In London, the Government have invested £1,870 per head on major transport projects, whereas in Yorkshire and the Humber region it is a mere £247 per head. The figures for infrastructure investment are even more stark, with London getting £5,426 per person, while in Yorkshire the equivalent figure is £581.

The relatively low skills in the north are cited as one of the factors discouraging inward investment. Educators at all levels are taking up the challenge, but people need to have some expectation that developing skills will lead to a better job and therefore income. Encouraging adults to acquire new skills can be challenging when the job opportunities are not obvious. It is a bit of a vicious circle.

Areas such as Yorkshire have been, literally, the powerhouses of the country for a century or more. Yorkshire still plays a massive role in generating the nation’s electricity but the transformation from the industries of an earlier era—coal, textiles, steel—needs major and sustained investment, and a vision shared and agreed with those communities.

Despite warm words from the Government, none of this has happened. The northern powerhouse has apparently run out of steam. Improved connectivity priorities agreed across the north in the Northern Way group a decade ago are still waiting implementation. To make matters worse, the Government have systematically and deliberately divested many of these same areas of the north of the resources to tackle these challenges.

Being starved of resources leads to a lack of capacity to deal with the big issues beyond the day-to-day. The Government’s own figures show that Leeds City Council for example will this year have £l,555 per household to spend on local services, which should include investment in encouraging new business and regenerating derelict areas. Meanwhile in Surrey, residents will have £1,993 per household of expenditure. If the spending power for Leeds, which is typical of many of the northern industrial towns and cities, was at the same level as it is for Surrey, Leeds residents and the council would have an additional £140 million every year to invest in making a difference.

What The State of the North demonstrates, and the Government’s own information illustrates, is that the 15 million residents of the north have had a poor deal. We do not want to be patronised. We do not intend to bring a begging bowl. But we insist that we be given the tools so that we can get on with the job, and that means the Government being bold enough to let go of the reins and let those of us who live in the north work together to release the talents, creativity and determination of northern folk.