The Northern Powerhouse continues to garner much media attention, but we cannot ignore other areas of the country, and in reality we should be calling it the “Regional Powerhouse”.
Just over a week ago, we saw the official opening of the newly-revamped train station at New Street in Birmingham. The five year project, costing £750m, means that the biggest city in the Midlands has some improved, modern and efficient transport infrastructure that can rival some of London’s biggest stations.
With HS2 to follow, what we tend to see is that infrastructure investment is directly linked to economic redevelopment, as those just north of the Square Mile at King’s Cross and St Pancras have witnessed over the years. This is also backed up by the economic and political will to get Crossrail completed as soon as possible, which has supported countless new jobs and will improve London’s congestion problems.
At the same time, the nine Chambers of Commerce representing most of the North’s main population centres made recent representations to the chancellor ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review. They called for improved transport infrastructure, funding for skills training for the over-25s, and for social housing, along with a renewed push to attract inward investment. On this latter point, I noted that George Osborne pushed hard in his recent China visit to show off the best the North has to offer to Chinese investors, taking with him a number of civil and council leaders.
But does this mean that, if other cities get more, London will get less? The answer is a simple no.
When I travel around Britain, I always hear from council leaders that they do not see London as sucking resources from the rest of the country. They recognise that we need to be able to work together more closely, helping create the jobs and sustainable growth that we all want to see. It was the same story when I was in Bournemouth last week for the Liberal Democrat conference. Speaking at an event there, I made this very point, with agreement from the crowd in attendance, that London and the City would be completely mistaken to put themselves up on some kind of pedestal.
We have always been clear in the City that supporting growth outside London is not to our detriment – but improves the economic security of the capital and the wider UK. With two-thirds of Britain’s 2m financial and professional services jobs found outside London, the City is a keen advocate of regional devolution. It is a critical part of the UK’s offer that we have financial centres across the country which supply a variety of products and services to a global marketplace.
Competition is always a good thing. It helps us challenge ourselves and push the boundaries of what we can achieve. Economic competition between the regions, including London, is therefore a good thing for the whole of the UK.