Yorkshire Post, 15 March 2016
We heard much talk before the General Election from the Government about how a new Northern Powerhouse would transform the region’s economy.
But, despite promised improvements, motorists still face frustrating delays on the M62 and long-awaited work to electrify the rail line between Leeds and Manchester remains “paused” because of last year’s overspending debacle at Network Rail.
The independent National Infrastructure Commission’s chairman Lord Adonis told us what we all know: the region needs “immediate and very significant investment” in our transport network.
He said the HS3 rail link between Manchester and Leeds needed kick-starting and urged the Chancellor to speed up improvements on the most congested parts of the M62.
He also warned that if the North is really to become a powerhouse, work must “begin as quickly as possible”.
The Chancellor will respond in his Budget by pledging £300 million towards those transport schemes and other major projects in the region.
Council services are facing brutal cuts. Businesses, households and tourist attractions like the brilliant Jorvik Centre, which could be closed for a year, are struggling in the aftermath of the floods. Cultural institutions like the National Media Museum in Bradford are among the flagship Yorkshire institutions under threat by yet more cuts.
And, the gulf in investment between the North and the South remains as wide as ever.
It is no surprise that many in the region now believe the Chancellor’s endlessly repeated mantra of a Northern Powerhouse was nothing more than a pre-election con trick on voters.
But around half of the Chancellor’s promised £300 million for the region was announced in his Autumn Statement last year. In fact, most of his “new” Budget pledges are re-announcements.
And, plans to cut rail journey times between Leeds and Manchester towards 40 minutes look set to take at least six years, with no timetable for when that will fall to the promised 30 minute commute.
There is no doubt these schemes need an urgent kick-start. But it will take more than another visit to the region from the Chancellor wearing his favourite hard hat for the cameras.
These projects will only ever come to fruition with a detailed plan, a strict timetable and the investment to deliver them.
He needs to deliver on his promise to make the region’s economy “fit for the future”.
There is a huge gap between the Chancellor’s rhetoric on the Northern Powerhouse and the reality in the region.
The Chancellor must live up to his promise to speed up these key transport projects and deliver on flood defences. And he must ensure that local councils have the money they need to promote and protect our interests. If he fails to do so, he risks consigning our economy to the slow lane where it will be the people and businesses of the region who will pay the price.