In his Summer Budget announcement, chancellor George Osborne made no apologies for highlighting the point that the Conservatives have boldly done something that previous governments haven’t been able (or possibly willing) to do – addressing the huge gap between the North and South.
Making several references to the government’s "northern powerhouse’ plans, the chancellor confirmed that an agreement has been reached with the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester to devolve further powers to the area. On condition that an elected mayor is appointed, councils in Manchester will garner more power to make decisions on issues such as fire services and planning, and will also receive a new Land Commission. Osborne revealed that talks are going well to create a similar system in Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds.
For too long, the North has been overlooked and it’s high time that some emphasis was taken away from London. Of course, the chancellor was keen to stress that the northern powerhouse plans won’t hold London back as such, but they will aim to make the economy more balanced. And not before time.
There’s always a degree of skepticism when a new government makes promises, but hopefully the early devolution of powers to the North is a sign that the Conservatives will deliver on its northern powerhouse pledge. It’s far too early to say for sure, but it’s not implausible to suggest that a strong North could eventually prompt more people and businesses to consider relocating.
It would be naive to suggest that the rise of cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle will have southerners flocking North in their droves. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, London will continue to be the UK’s economic heartbeat, and it will remain the default location of choice for corporations looking to set up a new headquarter. However, as the government’s plans to invest substantial sums into business clusters and rail networks that make the North more accessible take shape, it would be nice to think that more businesses will recognise the vast benefits of moving northwards.
Looking to the future, the controversial High Speed 2 rail line will eventually slash journey times between Manchester and London to little more than an hour, which means people and businesses will be able to benefit from the North’s cheaper property prices and living costs while still having quick access to the capital.
It’s not always wise to speculate, but it’s likely that the government’s plans will cause the aforementioned cost imbalance between the North and South to narrow considerably in the future, which means those who had the foresight to make the switch from South to North early will ultimately profit.
It’s too early to confidently forecast a Great Migration within the UK, but us northerners make no apologies for feeling optimistic about the government’s northern powerhouse plans.