Perspectives

George Osborne: What's next for the Northern Powerhouse

What's next for the Northern Powerhouse? George Osborne, the Chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), announces the launch of the NPP's first formal campaign: to encourage the Government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail. 

The letter below was originally published in the Financial Times, and is hosted by Mace as a founding member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. 

"This autumn we will see whether the government is really committed to the idea of the Northern Powerhouse. Repeating the slogan will not be the same as taking the specific, concrete steps to make it a reality. For behind the slogan lies a compelling economic concept: if you better connect the cities of the north together, the whole will be bigger than the individual parts - and they will attract more business and create more jobs.

"That’s because the cities of the north of England, like Newcastle and Sheffield, are not individually large enough to act as a counterweight to the pull of our great capital city. Put them together, however, and you have a population of around 10 million people - a big enough urban population to attract global interest. There no geographical reason why this can't happen. The distance between Manchester and Leeds is shorter than the length of the Central Line on the Underground. But the transport connections are not there and the habit of commuting to work on the scale you see in the south east doesn't exist. This isn't down simply to a lack of investment. The truth is that there has been a reluctance within these northern cities themselves to work together. 

"Then, a few years ago, that all started to change. Local city halls started talking to each other more. These promising signs enabled me, as Chancellor, to turn up at the Power Hall of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry in 2014 and commit the then government to building this northern powerhouse. What mattered as much as a Conservative Chancellor giving a speech on the north, was that the Labour civic leaders turned up to listen to it. In an unlikely alliance, we set about working together on three central plans. 

"First, we would create new elected mayors in these cities so that - like all great cities in the world - they would have a strong voice. Just three years later many of those mayors now exist, and beyond just the north. Second, we would support the existing strengths of these cities by bringing in new science and cultural institutions. Now the likes of the Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials are under development. Third, we would build better transport connections between the cities. 

"Then I left office and there was a risk that the northern powerhouse would end with my own political career. It very nearly did. We now know, thanks to the revelations by Katie Perrior, head of media in Number 10, that there was a systematic attempt by Theresa May’s advisors (apparently without her knowledge) to eradicate all mention of my initiative.

"Thankfully, the Northern Powerhouse proved more enduring than those advisers. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership that I formed, on leaving office, has the support of the northern civic leaders and many major businesses. It has resources, a full-time staff, and conducting research.

"Now we are launching our first campaign - we want the government this autumn to commit to building high speed rail links across the north, all the way from Liverpool to Hull, starting with the line across the Pennines. The name of this project is Northern Powerhouse Rail, or what some call HS3. Northern Powerhouse Rail has to be the next stage in the government’s high-speed network.

"Specifically, they should include the planning for the future connections when they set out the design for Phase 2b of HS2 later this year, remodelling four junctions in the North to ensure they are complimentary with HS2, start the detailed planning work on the line itself and allocate a long-term capital budget.

"For this new railway would transform the northern economy. It would bring 7 million more people - and three times the number of businesses - within a 90 minute journey-time of one of our great northern cities. It’s not cheap (I saw estimates of around 7 billion pounds for the Pennine work) - but it’s over many years and the transport budget was set on a rising path to accommodate both this and other key projects like Crossrail 2 in London. I know, I set it. The Northern Powerhouse rail fits with the government’s stated objective of building an economy that works for everyone. If this isn't part of an industrial strategy, then what is?

"Far be it from me to offer advice to Mrs May on how to relaunch her premiership this autumn, but making this big commitment to the north of England at the Conservative Conference in Manchester isn't a bad place to start."