A North East Council Leader has warned that the Northern Powerhouse could become a ‘political catchphrase’ if the government does not back the initiative further.
Durham County Council Leader Simon Henig said: “It’s just a phrase at the moment which doesn’t have any real content and that’s why it’s so important that the Government does back that up and with the reality, detail and finance to make this work.
Councillor Henig, Labour, who is also chair of the North East Combined Authority (NECA), said that more must be done to increase public engagement and highlighted transport infrastructure, skills and economic investments as the key areas which need addressing.
He said: “I think that those would be identified by business groups and local authorities, politicians as well. I think there is general agreement about the priorities in the North East.
“I think we agree on priorities, it’s just having the tools to get on with it.”
NECA is a political partnership between Newcastle City Council, Sunderland City Council, Durham County Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council and Northumberland County Council.
Coun Henig: “The devolution deal is still proceeding through its stages and that involves a lot of different things going on, there are lots of different parts of it. That’s the main thing. Which links up the North East with the Northern Powerhouse.
“I expect that to happen over the next year and more but It has got to move just beyond the catchphrase.”
The proposed North East Devolution Agreement sets out the transfer of significant powers regarding employment and skills, transport, housing, planning, business support and investment from central government for the region.
The Northern Powerhouse is a government initiative to boost economic growth in the North of England. Its aim is to rebalance the economy and enable the North to compete with London and the South East.
It was one of the Conservatives’ main policies during the run-up to last general election, but some MPs and local officials have criticised the Government’s commitment to the North East.
Newcastle East MP Labour Nick Brown said: “I have not been able to find a working definition of the Northern Powerhouse, it’s a brand without a product.
“The only solid idea is connecting Manchester and Leeds, which in its own terms is a good idea. But it is 100 miles from here. It doesn’t mean we are part of the Northern Powerhouse.
“My line is: we’re the outhouse.”
The MP, who was the minister for the North East until 2010, said to increase public understanding and engagement of the Northern Powerhouse, a precise definition must be found.
He added: “All economies gravitate to their centre. England is no exception to this. The Government should pursue an interventionist policy, pushing back out from London and the South East.
“The North East needs to strengthen, deepen and broaden its private sector employment base. That was the focus of the last Labour government. It’s still the region’s most pressing need.”
He added: “Changes to local government and the Northern Powerhouse concept all serve to push the public away from the decision-making process rather than engage them.”
The Minister for the Northern Powerhouse James Wharton claims the Northern Powerhouse will transform northern cities.
He said: “The Northern Powerhouse will transform our great cities and rebalance the economy, having already helped create record employment rates across the North East.
“We have already secured a host of devolution deals backed by billions of pounds of new government funding – including in the North East and Tees Valley – and have invested in transport, science and the arts across the region.
“We will continue to harness the North’s massive potential to drive the UK’s economy, and its prospects make it a lucrative place to live, work and invest.
“There are more people in work in the North East than ever before and employment rates in the North East are the highest on record,” he added.
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) issued a statement sating:
“The Northern Powerhouse is a vision of a strengthened northern regional economy, playing a leading role in a successful, diversified and resilient UK.
“Building the Northern Powerhouse is a generational challenge – not a quick fix which can be addressed through a group of projects delivered over 2 or 3 years.
“It requires a shared strategy built on a clear understanding of the assets and challenges of the north, collaboration between Central Government and Northern leaders from business, local government and educational backgrounds.
“There needs to be a commitment to long-term investment in our key economic infrastructure – in innovation and science, in skills, in our cities and key industrial sites, and in our transport and digital infrastructure. Those leading this work need to be visible, and accountable for the work they do.
“We are encouraged that Northern Powerhouse is being led from the very top of Government. We support and are part of setting the strategic direction being progressed through devolution deals and new northern institutions, such as Transport for the North.
“The North East LEP is committed to ensuring the economic potential of the North East is understood at a senior level and realised through the Northern Powerhouse vision.”