Mayor Andy Burnham has recently led fresh calls for devolution to the North of England, after the State of the North report for 2018 reinforced the trend of a disturbing regional divide.
Produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research, the annual report assesses the challenges facing the region’s economy, and provides suggestions for how such issues can be resolved, through government policy.
Published on 5th December, the 2018 edition found that public spending in the North had fallen by £6.3 billion since 2009/10, whilst the South East and South West have seen a total rise of £3.2 billion in the same period.
There were a number of further revelations of the extent of the North-South bipolarity, with the report claiming that 2 million working-age adults and 1 million children live in poverty in the North, an area where the average household income is twice as low as the South East and West.
Shockingly, the IPPR’s findings also revealed that the lowest life expectancy nationally is found in Northern areas, with the figure standing at just 46 years in one Salford neighbourhood.
This year’s study was complied in the wider context of the Northern Powerhouse, an elusive concept, that while never fully-defined, stresses the need for the region to realise its full ability, and be provided with the tools to do so.
IPPR have called for the North to be handed increasingly-extensive powers to determine its own destiny, in a ‘Whole North Approach’ that will eliminate the exclusively-urban focus that the project has entailed so far.
Other recommendations included eliminating the investment gap between North and South and upgrading social infrastructure alongside the overhaul of transport services.
Report author Luke Raikes argued that amid ongoing Brexit negotiations, the Northern Powerhouse had been neglected. Raikes said: “The Government is so consumed by Westminster’s Brexit chaos that it has deprioritised the Northern Powerhouse agenda at the very time it is needed most. This cannot continue.
“All our regional economies face severe challenges– including London’s. Brexit threatens to make this much worse and the Northern Powerhouse agenda is the best chance we have of fixing this national economic crisis. In the national interest, the North needs to thrive.”
With a population of 15 million, and an economy larger than Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales combined, it remains controversial that the North is subject to centralised decisions about future projects, and the level of jurisdiction it has over the use of funding.
Last month The Mancunion reported that Mayor Andy Burnham felt unprepared to tackle an ongoing transport crisis without the government equating Transport for Greater Manchester’s powers with those of Transport for London.
The Labour politician has once again waded into the devolution debate, after the revelations of the IPPR’s report, accusing the government of failing its commitment to the North in the five years since George Osborne first coined the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Raikes added: “This Government promised us a Northern Powerhouse and Northern leaders stand ready to work with them to close the North-South divide which pervades right across public spending, poverty rates and life expectancy.
“But, almost five years after the Government promised us a Northern Powerhouse, we learn that public spending in the North has fallen while rising in the South. This has got to stop and it is time that the North came to the front of the queue for public investment.
“With the powers we have, Greater Manchester is working together across services and agencies to better prevent and address the causes of complex issues such as homelessness, addiction, offending, and ill mental health. We are determined to face tough challenges head on and, with devolution, succeed in changing the lives of our people for the better.”
Greater Manchester is the only city in the UK to be given control over its health and social care spending, and is currently in the process of designing a new system for the delivery of public service, that will integrate services at the community and neighbourhood level.
Burnham is also the area’s first directly-elected mayor since the position was created in 2014.
Despite this, there remains a consensus that the city needs more authority to adequately address a range of issues, from homelessness, to an asylum policy.