Trying to turn around one hundred years of decline isn't going to be easyby Ben Houchen / August 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Angel of the North: are efforts to regenerate the region at risk of being defined by its detractors? The Northern Powerhouse is at risk of being defined by its detractors. For the publicity-hungry politician, there are column inches in playing up the north-south divide. They forget that it’s up to us, as northern leaders, to turn our fortunes around. Home to more than 15m people, 1m businesses, seven international airports and some of the world’s top universities, we should not passively accept the story of decline in the north. When it comes to investment, the government’s Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund has already made hundreds of millions of pounds available to businesses from Merseyside to Middlesbrough. In the region I represent as mayor, we are making millions available to support businesses. Infrastructure is central. The rail scheduling issues that have dominated the media this summer are hugely important to many people—myself included—but the real question is whether the government commits to Northern Powerhouse Rail. This project is a great opportunity to make the most of technologies, like hydrogen-powered trains and 5G data networks. Devolution is the most exciting part of the Northern Powerhouse. It is now clear that the old model of running everything from Whitehall is broken. Devolution has worked in London, and it’s working in Teesside too. For me, the Northern Powerhouse has always been about letting people make the best decisions for their own regions. Over decades, under governments of all political colours, our economy has become unbalanced. In the north especially, we’ve seen the excessive creation of public sector jobs. This isn’t the answer. Politicians are often asked whether the Northern Powerhouse is a success, and depending on their party, they answer yes or no without much thought. Trying to turn around a hundred years of relative decline is not going to be easy. The kind of structural changes required to rebalance the nation’s economy and tackle inequality between the north and south will take time—no serious economist or business person would tell you otherwise. But with the combination of more powers to local leaders, targeted investment and a modern industrial strategy, we really can start to close that north-south divide.