Voice from the Northern Powerhouse – we are still waiting, Boris

As published in Mirror Online on Wednesday 24 July 2019

By Dan Jarvis, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham

Boris Johnson’s Government will be the third administration to promise the North of England a Northern Powerhouse. People here have had plenty of pledges from Ministers since George Osborne made his speech in Manchester five years ago, yet we are still waiting for the Powerhouse we were promised.

Boris Johnson has never been known for his love of the North so people here will be sceptical of his commitment to our part of the country.

This new Prime Minister’s time in office will be the make or break moment for the Northern Powerhouse.

There has never been a greater need to rebalance the economy outside of London and give the North the power and resources to get firing on all cylinders. If the last few years have shown us anything it is that the old Westminster system is broken.

The dusty corridors of Westminster have groaned and creaked under the strain of Brexit – you have to look beyond the stale old politics to see where real change has come.  Across the North, our confidence, local knowledge and local accountability has seen huge steps forward for society with the limited powers we’ve been given by Whitehall. We’ve reduced the number of people sleeping rough on our streets, made it easier for young people to access jobs and opportunities and have set out ambitious, innovative plans to make our transport systems fit for the 21st century.

But we now need Government to give us the powers and resources to go much further.

The North has been held back for too long by our congested roads and clapped-out trains. Boris Johnson knows all too well one of the key ingredients to London’s success is that you can catch a train, bus or Tube without paying a fortune. After 50 years and billions of pounds of investment in the capital, it’s now time for the North to get its fair share.

The new Prime Minister was absolutely right to call for more ‘investment in mass transit’ across the North to link up buses, trams, trains and cycling networks at ‘affordable prices for people on modest incomes’, as has been so successfully done in London. Now, as Mayors, we need the resources to match the rhetoric.

But transport alone is not the silver bullet. The Industrial Revolution started here in the North – and with our exciting next generation firms, we believe the North can lead the next industrial revolution – the tech revolution. But this won’t happen without more local control over skills and training for these new hi-tech firms. Government has already given us some cash and control over adult education – and that’s a welcome step. But Government must be bolder and must give us the power to build a skills system for the North, by the North.

One of the clearest failures of the Westminster system over recent years has been social care. Just last week Boris Johnson said that people should not have to sell their homes to fund their own care in later life. Real action is needed to solve this problem and it is needed now.

Local council social care budgets are at breaking point. The only solution is significant investment, alongside partnership working so areas can link up health, care and other services at a local level.

Police budgets too, have been under significant strain.  Across the North we’ve seen the loss of thousands of police officers. Despite the best efforts of our brilliant police officers and staff, this has inevitably led to fewer crimes being solved. What is worse is that looming pension pressures mean even more officers could be lost. Boris Johnson has made much of his record on crime as Mayor of London – so he knows the pressure Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners are under. One of his first acts must be to deliver the additional investment that has been promised so our Police can keep people safe.

As Mayors, we represent a population the same size as Scotland’s. The North as a whole is 15.5M people strong. We are now beginning to speak with one voice and we’re only going to get louder.

Here is a simple test for the new Prime Minster. Today, on his first day in office, he can announce his intention to attend the Convention of the North in September. Come and speak to the gathered Leaders of the North and convince us of your commitment.

We will work with the new Prime Minister to make things better for people in the North but we won’t shy away from holding his feet to the fire if yet more promises of a Powerhouse go unmet during his term in office.