Chancellor George Osborne promised to put the Northern Powerhouse at the centre piece of this year’s Autumn Statement.
Today, Osborne gave the impression that the Northern Powerhouse and Manchester were synonymous as he announced Manchester would receive a new £250m national science institute, funding for transport and house building, a commitment to introduce an elected mayor from 2017, and a new theatre and arts space, which would be named The Factory. In doing so, Osborne firmly placed the first industrial city at the heart of the government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.
Manchester was name checked by Osborne six times in his hour long speech. London in contrast, was only mentioned twice. Writing in the Manchester Evening News this evening, Osborne reveals that HM Treasury analysis estimates that if the economic growth rate of the north could be raised to match the growth rate for the country as a whole between now and 2030, each person living in the north would be £1,600 a year better off.
To boost growth, the UK regions must begin to challenge the dominance of London and the South East. This is what Osborne said he would look to do back in 2010. However, faced with more pressing political and economic issues, it has taken some time to materialise.
The Northern Powerhouse is a broader project that extends across the entire region, but anyone listening to the chancellor today will have struggled to believe any city other than Manchester will be at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. Osborne made a public plea to other northern cities during his speech, saying: “We’ve delivered in Manchester and my door is open to other cities who want to follow their cross-party lead.” The question now is how quickly the queue will form at the Treasury to follow Manchester’s lead.
In advancing the Northern Powerhouse agenda, Osborne has been struck by his dealings with the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester in terms of their openness to negotiating a deal on devolution.
Why, for instance, would Labour local authorities help a Conservative chancellor on such a high profile issue? For a start, the Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, has a well earned reputation for putting the interest of the Greater Manchester area first, and making the city a business friendly attraction. Osborne may have initially underestimated the appetite to reach a deal, especially after the city rejected the idea of an elected mayor in 2012.
Although devolution to Manchester has some way to go so it can match its international rivals, Osborne can today celebrate an economic and political coup.
By stealing the march over Labour in the devolution agenda to regions and cities, Osborne has left the Labour Party reeling. The phrase Northern Powerhouse may not be on par with Long Term Economic Plan just yet, but the chancellor is wedded to the idea. And for a party which struggles for support across the north of England, delivering reform and economic growth cannot harm the party’s electoral chances.
A quick look at the top 20 Conservative target seats for next year is revealing. Only one constituency, Bolton West, is located in and around the Greater Manchester area. This means the Northern Powerhouse will not bring with it a series of new Tory Manchester MPs next year. The party’s aim in the region must be to look more long term, looking towards 2020 and beyond. That’s a big if. Even so, Osborne is hoping that one day the last red part of Manchester is the colour of brick.