In last week’s Economic Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a golden opportunity to listen to what Northern leaders and Mayors have been calling for throughout this pandemic and deliver big, bold, structural reforms to our economy that would fundamentally change the way our economy works. People in Barnsley – and across South Yorkshire and the wider North – know only too well that the British economy doesn’t work in their interests. That too much investment in infrastructure, transport and jobs in drawn to London and the South East. Regular readers will know the statistic I cite that underlines this most clearly – for every pound spent on transport infrastructure in Yorkshire and the Humber, London and the South East get £3.40. It shouldn’t be the case that areas with deep and enduring inequalities get less support and investment from central government. It is a fundamental question of fairness. It was also an opportunity last week for Rishi Sunak to reverse decades of underfunding and drive a fairer recovery.
Our economy has been rocked by Coronavirus. Our local businesses have weathered the storm of the virus; our workers have faced uncertainty as to whether they will have a job to go back to when the disease is overcome. As we begin to see the beginnings of recovery, as lockdown measures are eased and the economy starts ticking over again – there is an opportunity to forge a new economic consensus. It’s not good enough just to rebuild. Returning to a failed status quo would be no good for towns like Barnsley. Instead there is an opportunity to renew our public services and communities and to build an economy that is fairer, stronger and greener. In short, to deliver the New Deal for the North that I have been calling for.
Sadly, the Chancellor didn’t make the most of this opportunity. Whilst measures to protect jobs, move towards net-zero emissions and stimulate the service economy are welcome, the Statement did not deliver the structural changes we urgently need in Barnsley and South Yorkshire. Instead of a New Deal for the North, we got a meal deal in the form of £10 vouchers at selected restaurants. With the best will in the world – and whilst this is welcome step – a tenner off your tea is not going to address the deep economic and social inequalities here in Barnsley.
This Government was elected on a promise to ‘level up the North’, yet time and again the North is seeing missed opportunities and the perpetuation of a failed status quo. Yes, we need real investment and the political will to deliver on that levelling-up agenda in the short-term. However, the model of Northern leaders and Mayors being forced to go cap in hand to the Treasury to fund vital projects in our regions can’t go on indefinitely. We need real devolution to ensure that decisions about the North are taken in the North, in the best interests of northern communities. In South Yorkshire, we’ve demonstrated the vast opportunities that devolution can bring since we got our Devolution Deal over the line – unlocking £110 million in new investment in the first week alone. Investment that will support 55,000 jobs and training opportunities and 25,000 businesses; create 3,000 new apprenticeships for our young people; and will revitalise our town centres that have borne the brunt of a decade of cuts. That’s what we can achieve with the right powers and funding, and that’s just what our regional economy needs as we embark on building a stronger, fairer and greener economy for our people and communities.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17 July 2020