Tag Archives: northern powerhouse

What’s our line on the Charles Line?

Few Liberal Democrats in England’s south-east will be aware of the depths of resentment in the north at the long-term imbalance between infrastructure around London and in and around the cities of northern England.  I’ve lived both in Yorkshire and London for the past 40 years, moving to work in London while staying engaged in politics in the north.  My own resentment has grown, as the last Labour government cancelled the metro tram schemes planned for Leeds and Liverpool and the trans-Pennine link remained as slow and unreliable as when I had first travelled on it in 1967, while the work on the Elizabeth Line was sustained and has now transformed transport connections across the Home Counties.

Boris Johnson’s expansive rhetoric on ‘Levelling Up’ briefly raised expectations that at last government would invest in revitalising the north.  Realization that ‘levelling up’ has in practice meant only small pots of money for tarting up high streets and restoring local buildings has deepened cynicism about London’s neglect of the former industrial north.  So the conference in Doncaster last Friday of the Conservative Parliamentary Party’s ‘Northern Research Group’ was worth noting.  Johnson’s easy promises helped the party to win all those ‘red wall’ seats.  If voters now feel betrayed, the Conservatives will lose them all again.

George Osborne, a powerful proponent a decade ago of the idea of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ recanted his commitment to austerity, which had led to cancellation of the eastern leg of the HS2 rail line and a determined Treasury resistance to a new line across the Pennines between Leeds and Manchester.  He noted that the Treasury had wanted to cancel the Elizabeth Line on several occasions, that it had taken over 30 years from proposal to completion, but that the outcome is proving transformative for the already-prosperous London region.  Conventional cost-benefit analysis has not taken into account the transformative effects of new rail links across the north.  Bits of electrified line, localised improvements of junctions, have left the journey from Liverpool to Leeds, Hull and Newcastle far slower and awkward than between Reading and East London.  

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29 January 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats: PM must not ignore defence concerns about Huawei deal
  • Liberal Democrats: Sacking Northern is just the first step

Liberal Democrats: PM must not ignore defence concerns about Huawei deal

Responding to reports that Boris Johnson has defied his Defence Secretary by allowing Huawei to help to build Britain’s 5G network, Liberal Democrat Defence Spokesperson Jamie Stone MP said:

Boris Johnson must not ignore the Defence Secretary’s concerns. There are legitimate human rights and security issues associated with this move.

Three of our Five Eyes allies, the US, Australia and New Zealand, have already blocked the Chinese firm in full or in part

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The Liberal Democrats must own the Northern Powerhouse 

Embed from Getty Images

I was delighted to chair Liberal Reform’s panel discussion at Spring Conference with Wera Hobhouse MP, Laura Gordon (PPC for Sheffield Hallam) and Stephen Smith (Transport for the North). The debate explored the opportunities, threats and politics surrounding the Northern Powerhouse agenda and how the Liberal Democrats should take on the challenge of owning the agenda going forward.

The statistics speak for themselves: as a region, the North has an economic worth of around £304bn and would be the 10th largest economy in Europe if it were a single city. However, the region is grossly underperforming and whilst the initial objectives of the Northern Powerhouse agenda was to rebalance the UK economy, since Theresa May’s election as Prime Minister the Conservatives seemed to have cooled on this subject.

Elsewhere, Labour is nowhere. Calling the Northern Powerhouse a “toxic brand”, Labour’s devolution spokesperson Jim McMahon has offered very little on how the North can grow.

It was only last week that Ed Cox resigned as the Director of the IPPR North and stated that, “neither of the mainstream Westminster parties have properly grasped the critical importance of devolution in unlocking the nation’s potential and their own attempts to govern”.

It is clear that the Liberal Democrats are the only party with the know-how to deliver true economic growth and devolution to the North.

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Champion the North of England

The Devolution agenda looks almost dead in the water to the eagle-eyed journalist looking for the first hint of a Government U-turn on the once flagship Conservative Party policy. 6 months on from the metro-mayor elections the big tests of devolution look to be too hard for its students.

The Northern Powerhouse, once the standard bearer for a new, devolved relationship which will finally bring the capital investment and foreign investment the region so desperately needs, is just a name. Like a flash in the pan celebrity it is now resigned to the history books or to the occasional nostalgic op-ed. Infrastructure investment withdrawal was the last in a list of governmental disappointments.

In the dark, cold corners of the Northern Cities however, things may not seem all lost. Sure, political leadership may be dead in these bastions of ex-industry and trade, but then there was not much of it in the first place. 6 months of political leadership in the hands of a Mayor with devolved budgets and more responsibilities than ever before has left me feeling… nothing.

No mayor policy leads, no new initiatives and certainly nothing to score a single political point in either the town hall or Westminster. Not even my own Manchester, home of science and industry, symbol of human endeavour, birthplace of the alternative can champion devolution under its leader Andy Burnham. That maybe unfair – he did announce the “oyster card for Manchester”, which though promised during the election has failed to live up to billing.

Manchester is the poster-boy of devolution. Its combined authority doesn’t just accept the economic geography of the region, it champions it. The increasing service industry and investment has weathered the financial storm and come out the other side. Cranes and girders litter the skyline. In South Manchester house prices have recovered and booming.

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What are the Tories hiding in their Northern Poorhouse?

I’ve previously written about the shambolic “Northern Powerhouse” as promoted by the Tories, particularly in relation to the “pause” in the electrification project on the Trans-Pennine Lines. It’s a personal subject for me, living between the two lines that run from Leeds to Manchester, filled with trains barely fit for purpose when they were introduced.

As someone who lives in Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse”, I have a right to know if the Tories were lying to us when they promised unprecedented infrastructure spending. If it was known in the industry that the electrification of the Great Western Main Line would mean that electrification in the North would have to be delayed, then ministers almost certainly knew. But voters were not told when they went to the ballot box in May.

So I used the best tool in the arsenal of any activist: the Freedom of Information request. Back in July, I asked for the minutes of any meetings between the Department for Transport and Network Rail regarding “the delay of electrification of the Manchester–Leeds via Huddersfield line”. Then I waited and waited.

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Farron: The Northern Powerhouse is a sham

Tim Farron has been in Yorkshire twice this week. He spoke at Yorkshire and the Humber (note, the name of the region is right this time) Liberal Democrat conference on Saturday and he was back for the Annual Dinner in Greg Mulholland’s seat on Wednesday.

While he was there, he spoke to the Yorkshire Post and was not impressed by the Conservative’s model of devolution:

One of the reasons the northern powerhouse is a sham and a failure is because this Government are now so obsessed with making sure that we reduce the size of the state that we are therefore not investing in the rail services that we need, in the housing that we need, the green energy we need, the broadband we need.

“Whilst the Labour Party is completely wrong-footed, completely in denial that the deficit needs to be reduced, cleared and to balance the books, George Osborne is mistaking the need to make sure you balance the books on your day to day expenditure with having to at the same time not invest in capital expenditure.

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How should we approach the devolution debate? A perspective from York

York Liberal Democrat Council GroupSince the elections in May Liberal Democrats in York have been faced with ongoing questions surrounding devolution. The recent Summer Budget announcements on devolution pose us with many challenges however they also gives us a welcome opportunity to ensure that decisions can be taken closer to the communities they affect, rather than in Whitehall.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has paved the way for devolution in England with Nick Clegg announcing their City Deal in March 2012. They will hold the first elections for a directly elected metro-mayor in 2017. Authorities across the country and in Yorkshire now have the opportunity to follow this path and submit a bid to gain similar access to devolved budgets and power.

Yorkshire is an enormous geographical area which already has two Combined Authorities and three Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) in its boundaries. The number of possible deals is almost endless. There are debates raging about which towns and cities should and should not be included in any proposals to government.

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