The Institute for Public Policy Research for the north of England recently published its review of the Northern Powerhouse five years in. The findings were stark, but not a surprise to anyone in the North. Because during the first five years, many Northerners have seen little improvement – and in some respects, a deterioration of the situation.
The north has borne the brunt of this government’s austerity policies, with a £3.6bn cut in public spending, while the south saw a £4.7bn rise in real terms during the same period. Public sector employment has fallen compared to London and spending on transport rose by more than twice as much in London as in the North. Weekly pay has only increased by £12 in the North, compared to £19 nationally. The number of jobs that pay less than the living wage has risen by 150,000. Worse still, there are 200,000 more children living in poor households than there were five years ago, meaning there are now 800,000 children living in poverty in the north of England.
All this has happened whilst the economy has grown consistently throughout the last five years. With economic growth between 2014 and 2017 marginally higher in the north than the national average, it is obvious that the benefits of that growth are not being distributed evenly. To have such a huge number of additional children growing up in poverty and so many people struggling in low-paid and insecure work during a period of economic growth is evidence that our broken economic system does not work for every region, and certainly not for the north.
I am proud to be a Northerner, and I’m in good company. The north has a population of 15 million people, roughly twice that of London. We have five major cities, 265 towns, over a thousand villages and small communities. Our economy is more than twice the size of Scotland’s, and if we were a country we would be the ninth largest economy in the EU. We have eight major ports, 29 universities, four national parks and six areas of outstanding natural beauty. We produce a third of the UK’s renewable energy and we are leaders in manufacturing, science and technology. We have the strong foundations and talent to prosper but austerity and government failure to invest in our region is holding us back.
Earlier this month, the Treasury select committee launched an inquiry into regional imbalances in the UK economy. The most recent ‘State of the North’ report found that the Northern Powerhouse project had been ‘deprioritised’ by government, so it could not be more timely. With a new Prime Minister and comprehensive spending review on the horizon, we have an opportunity to think differently about how to rebalance the economy. We need a renewed vision for the north, and the political backing to achieve it. That means investing investing in our infrastructure and our people. It means devolving power and resources away from Westminster, allowing the north greater self-determination to deliver meaningful change ‘from the north, by the north and for the north’.
We know this is a challenge. Our politics, like our media, is London-dominated. But that must change. Having long campaigned alongside one another to highlight and address regional inequalities, Labour MPs from across the three northern regions have now formed Labour for the North, a group that will speak with one voice and stand together to ensure this vision for a better north is realised. We will be working in a much more co-ordinated way in future, to ensure that every time a big infrastructure decision is made the needs of the North are not forgotten. We will be demanding policies that put an end to our region having some of the lowest life expectancies, attainment gaps and transport investment. We will make sure that the next Labour government really delivers for the people of the north. After all, without Labour’s Northern MPs, there won’t be a Labour government.
Labour for the North is open to all Labour MPs in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humber. Justin Madders, Judith Cummins and Peter Dowd are the organisers of the new group.