The Autumn Statement from the Chancellor on Wednesday provided yet more good news for the city of Manchester.
Following the recent ‘Devo Manc’ deal that delivered the Greater Manchester region with a significant devolution of powers with over a billion pounds of investment to match, George Osborne announced additional benefits to what he clearly sees as the hub of the Northern Powerhouse , with plans for the establishment of a huge theatre – named the Factory after Tony Wilson’s legendary label; a £235million national advanced materials centre, the Sir Henry Royce Institute, which will be set up at Manchester University; and a whole range of infrastructure projects around road and rail that will directly benefit the Manchester city region.
There were some crumbs off the table, by comparison, for Liverpool, Leeds and Lancashire – but once again the big winner was Manchester with an early Christmas gift from the Chancellor that is worth an estimated £1.3billion.
Rather than be envious of this remarkable deal, struck largely by Manchester Labour politicians with a Tory Chancellor, other northern cities and regions need to finally wake up and learn the lessons that Sir Richard Leese, Sir Howard Bernstein et al have been teaching us for twenty years or more.
City regions and county’s work ‘better together’. They can produce cohesive and consistent policy and strategy proposals that are then efficiently delivered. The economic benefits are tangible. The political fall outs are negligible, and anyway are always kept private.
Whilst Leeds comforted itself with the promise from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that it could have devolution without signing up to a ‘Metro Mayor’ (another broken promise Nick?) and Liverpool continues to indulge in a parochialism in politics that is more akin to the practices of a Parish Council than a super Combined Authority, the Chancellor and his Treasury officials took a look at the northern landscape and decided that, Manchester aside, the North simply isn’t mature enough to be trusted with a huge chunk of devolution and cash.
Lancashire’s civic leaders are at least now talking to one another, although there are still threats of UDI from places like Chorley and the Fylde, whilst West Lancashire is flirting with Liverpool and some in the East of the county delude themselves that splitting from the rest of Lancashire would be a genuine option.
By next May, devolution will be a big part of all the major parties agendas. By then it is imperative that the rest of the north gets its act together and has a narrative in place to take maximum advantage of whatever devolved powers and resources are on offer.
A ‘Me Too’ approach is clearly not going to be enough, and it is now crucial that the public and private sectors come together in each region to work up plans that will convince Westminster leaders and officials that we have the maturity to recognise the need for unity, innovation and reform of local governance structures.
If that doesn’t happen, we won’t just have a north-south divide; but a two speed north of England, where Manchester powers ahead, leaving the rest to watch and weep.