North of England: Best of British, and don't forget it
The North of England has been consistently overlooked by successive Governments and under the previous Government, the so-called North/South divide got worse
One particular challenge the Government has faced since coming to power is rebalancing the economy in Britain. As the centre of the industrial revolution, the North of England had a huge role to play during a period that marked a major turning point in British history, resulting in an unprecedented boost for the nation’s economy.
Yet more recently, the North of England has been consistently overlooked by successive Governments and under the previous Government, the so-called North/South divide got worse. Between 1998 and 2008, for every extra private sector job created in the North and Midlands, ten were created in London and the South.
For years the North has lost out in terms of funding, sometimes getting less than £100 per head than the national average and years of over-reliance on the South East have created a real imbalance in the UK’s economy.
Nowhere is this disparity more true than with transport funding, which is surprising when considering the fact that many of the innovations in transport that proved vital to the progress of Britain’s economic development took place in the north.
To take just one example, 1830 saw the opening of the first inter-city railway in the world, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the success of which led to the so-called ‘Railway Mania’ which swept across the country in the 1840’s.
History therefore teaches us that the North of England clearly has a lot to offer, but it is long overdue the important upgrades to its transport links necessary to bringing about economic recovery.
For too long, successive Labour Governments have failed to carry out their promises on transport, such as investment in our railways and in public transport, and this has left the country facing increasingly worsening congestion on both our roads and our rail networks. These failings have also made it ever more apparent that a high quality transport system is vital in supporting Britain’s economy, especially in the North.
This is why, as a Conservative MP, I am pleased that this Government is pushing ahead with numerous reforms to address this issue and encourage economic growth in the North.
A £9bn national programme of investment announced earlier this year will see transport links throughout the North of England transformed, through faster journeys, more seats and more frequent trains across the area and beyond.
One part of this includes the completion in full of the Northern Hub, which I believe will be a significant boost for the major towns and cities of the North and will go a long way towards helping to rebalance the UK’s economy and enabling growth and regeneration throughout the regions.
Furthermore, I was hugely encouraged the announcement at the beginning of the year that the HS2 project will be going ahead. Not only will this have a huge impact on my constituency, it will also bring great benefits to the whole of the North whilst tackling the terrible problem of overcrowding on our current rail network, which is already running at capacity. HS2 is a real investment in the future of the North and I am pleased that the Government is ensuring that this important project is going ahead.
However, investment in our railways is only one aspect of the many steps the Government is taking to address the imbalance of transport funding in the North.
As an example, Leeds, wherein my constituency is based, is the only major city in the country lacking an integrated transport system, such as a trolleybus or light rail/tram network. As Leeds is often cited as being the the UK's largest centre for business, legal, and financial services outside of London, I find this hugely surprising and therefore welcomed the announcement of provisional funding approval for a new £250 million public transport system, which is expected to bring a significant boost to the West Yorkshire region and will see the creation of a trolleybus system in Leeds.
On top of this, we are already seeing improvements to the motorway network in the North, improvements which are set to continue through the course of this Parliament, and I believe investment in this area will go a long way towards boosting economic growth throughout the area.
One aspect of this programme saw improvements to the M62 begin this month and I am certain that the £150m managed motorway scheme, which covers a 15.5-mile section of the M62 between junction 25 and junction 30 (Rothwell), will cut congestion and make journey times more reliable, as well as improve safety through the use of variable mandatory speed limits and by opening the hard shoulder as an extra running lane.
Transport aside, the Government has also begun to implement a number of other measures to bring about economic growth throughout the North of England. Through the Regional Growth Fund, the Government is supporting projects and programmes with significant potential for economic growth that can create additional, sustainable private sector employment throughout many areas in the North.
In addition to this, the Government has also established a number of enterprise zones, 10 of which are in the North of England. These are specific areas where a combination of financial incentives, reduced planning restrictions and other support is used to encourage the creation of new businesses and jobs, which will in turn contribute to the growth of the local and national economies.
Although these are only a few examples, I feel they go a long way towards illustrating the Government’s commitment to addressing the long overlooked economic divide that exists between the North and South of the country.
This unprecedented level of investment is excellent; it is however vital that local small and medium businesses have the opportunity to take part in the procurement process in order that everybody benefits from the Government’s actions.
Stuart Andrew is the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Horsforth & Aireborough
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