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Power to the people part II: Devolution, not revolution

The chancellor’s Northern powerhouse (re-)announcement earlier this month has put in motion a transformational vision for the North of England.

What may have seemed an optimistic concept last year is turning into reality. 

Behind the plan is the need to rebalance Britain’s badly divided economy. 

Investment and growth in the South, centred on and around London, has meant the North has fallen significantly behind and this desperately needs to be addressed. 

But let’s not see this as a subsidy for the North. It isn’t. 

Investing in the Northern powerhouse

The Northern powerhouse is an investment in the country which will be as good for the South as it is for the North. 

Rebalancing the economy is not about taking investment away from the South, it’s about making investment across our nation and joining up our great cities in the North and the South, creating connectivity and the environment to drive growth nationally.

The UK’s economy will stagnate if we don’t address this. 

It’s a startling fact that London’s GVA is more than double that of the top 10 northern cities combined. 

London is a success story, but its success could also be its downfall. 

“The UK’s economy will stifle if we don’t address this”

It has become an ever more unaffordable place to live, particularly for key workers without whom it will not function.

Housing costs are through the roof, overcrowding is the norm and quality of life for the average Londoner is falling. 

Growth is great, but uncontrollable growth isn’t. London’s growth seems out of control, making it harder to sustainably meet the everyday needs of its citizens.

At this juncture I should declare an interest. 

While my work regularly takes me to London, I live in the North-west and Manchester is my home city – a vibrant, innovative, outward-looking and fast-growing city, which has welcomed the Northern powerhouse agenda and devolution with open arms. 

The Queen’s Speech

So, in today’s Queen’s Speech, our newly elected government will devolve wide-ranging powers to English cities, and Manchester will be the first in line. 

This will give Manchester the power to control – among other things – how it plans, delivers and pays for infrastructure, social care and the NHS.

Further, the appointment of passionate Mancunian and former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill’s as commercial secretary to the Treasury has gone down well locally. 

The general view is that Mr O’Neill understands the region, its people, the challenges and its massive potential. 

So it all looks fairly rosy for Manchester – but just as London is not England, Manchester is not the North. 

“I don’t want to see Manchester become the London of the North”

The level of focus on Manchester and the chancellor’s endless trips to the city has caused some concern that other areas may get left behind. 

As the chancellor said last year, the cities of the North are individually strong, but collectively not strong enough. 

The smaller towns and cities are just as crucial to the Northern powerhouse as the big cities, and can help drive the region’s growth so long as they share in the benefits of new powers and prosperity.

So, proud Mancunian as I am, I don’t want to see Manchester become the London of the North, growing at the expense of other areas. 

I want to see it as one of a number of regions across the North which uses its collective weight to drive innovation, growth and prosperity for the good of the whole country. 

So to the people of Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria, the North-east and of course Yorkshire, come join the party. 

Power to the people. 

Vive t’ devolution.

Chris Hallam is infrastructure partner at Pinsent Masons

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