Northern England: Opportunity and Productivity - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:34 pm on 12th January 2017.

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Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop 12:34 pm, 12th January 2017

My Lords, many of the points I wanted to make have already been made, and I will not repeat them, but I do want to emphasise one or two points. When we talk about the north, I sometimes think it is a bit like the way we talk about Africa, as if it was one monolithic place. The north is not. It is very diverse, differentiated and complex. For example, we have heard about Bradford having a very young population, 23.6% being under the age of 16. Where are the jobs for them? It is all very well to have a thriving city of Leeds, which has a large manufacturing base; but if that is not integrated and if the success of Leeds means that its environs have vulnerabilities, there is a potential problem. In the rural areas of north Yorkshire and parts of west Yorkshire there is low productivity in the farming and tourism industries, low-wage economies, and problems with housing and house prices, particularly with second homes or those living in the metropolitan areas wanting to live outside those areas. House prices rise and there is a problem with the continuity of community and with families being able to stay where they are. I mention that because we often talk about industry or industrial strategy as if it were an end in itself. The purpose of wealth creation, the purpose of industry and work is to create a good society. That is why I was pleased to hear earlier the call for an integrated approach. Industry is not an end in itself.

There are two elements in the report that are worth paying attention to. Much has been said about devolution, so I will leave that out. The first is resilience. We need to remember that in the wake of Brexit, however particular communities voted, the split is pretty even in most places. Leeds voted to remain; Bradford voted to leave. We still have to pay attention, not just to those who won the referendum, but to those who are very concerned about the future. For example, what will happen if the European subsidies to the farming industry are removed? Are the Government really going to compensate within the United Kingdom for what is going to be lost? That is creating an uncertain future. I gather that £350 million has already been committed to the NHS every week. We keep hearing figures cited, but there is a finite pot of money—so what is going to give? We need honesty and realism as that is taken forward. The resilience largely depends on the nature of the people and the tools they are given to shape their own future. Local leadership has to be established, or continued, that is inspirational and dynamic. I want to pay tribute to some of the leaders of our local authorities, who are expected to do more and more with less and less. There are excellent examples in some of the authorities that my diocese covers.

Connectivity is, in the end, where resilience will lie. I speak as someone who comes originally from Liverpool. I once went to Hull, although I am sure I will head back in the coming year. I am now in Leeds; I have lived in Bradford and studied there as well. When we talk about the northern powerhouse, too often we speak in terms of east-west connectivity, purely in terms of the M62 corridor. That is what we mean by the trans-Pennine route. What happens to places such as Harrogate? What happens to the post-industrial towns of Halifax, Huddersfield, Kirklees and Calderdale, which do not seem to figure too well in the ruminations about connectivity? There is no point linking up Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull if we are not addressing certain questions, which I have raised in this House before. For example, Bradford has two stations but they are not joined up, so one cannot come off the north-south route and get across, unless something is done within Bradford to join it up. If we do not do that, we are militating against the possible thriving, not only of some of the northern Yorkshire towns and communities but also the west Yorkshire towns.

I have run out of time, so will leave it there. Integration and connectivity are essential.