In his 2014 July budget the Chancellor set out plans for a Northern Powerhouse. Since then this idea has grown from a buzzword into a political reality.
With Manchester (the Chancellor’s back yard) hosting the Conservative Party Conference this year, what better place for him and the Conservatives to clarify their policy offering to the North.
The Chancellor used his speech at conference to highlight his commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. Saying he’s been "changed" by representing a constituency near Manchester and going on to list the investment from China, the transport links and the arts funding he has backed and promoted in the city.
As the devolution revolution continues to gather pace the Chancellor announced plans for a business rates shake-up that will allow local governments, with elected Mayors, to keep the rates they collect from business. Heralded by the Chancellor as the “biggest transfer of power to local government in living memory".
The Chancellor hopes this new policy will "phase out the local government grant altogether" and that these devolved powers will encourage businesses to feel a greater stake in the success of their local economy. This policy has been welcomed by the Local Government Association who have described it as a "vital boost to investment in infrastructure and public services” and the CBI hopes it will “spur councils to take a pro-growth approach".
The announcement of the National Infrastructure Commission, headed up by Lord Andrew Adonis, will have a major impact on the North. The independent body will advise and direct large projects such as railways, roads and airports. Lord Adonis previously led the plans for electrification of railway lines in the North-West.
Yesterday the Prime Minister made his first conference speech as leader of a majority Conservative government. While there was a fleeting reference to the Northern Powerhouse he focused on new housing plans which are a positive message for the North as, like most of the UK it is facing a housing crisis.
The Prime Minister announced that builders in the UK will be able to offer "starter homes" for first-time buyers at discounted prices, along with the low-cost rented homes in new developments already on offer. The price of the "starter homes" after the discount is applied will be capped at £250,000 outside London.
As part of his “national crusade to build more homes” , the “starter homes” proposal aims to unblock housebuilding in the UK by abolishing demands that developers provide a certain amount of affordable housing to rent in new developments. It’s thought that this policy will be popular with developers as they immediately receive income on the property’s sale, unlike a rented property that involves a slower rental income stream.
James Wharton MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse was in demand during conservative conference. Using fringe events to delve into the detail of the Northern Powerhouse proposals, the Minister focused on technology in the North, transport and further devolved powers. Discussing how the new Transport for the North project will work across local and combined authorities and commenting on overseas trips with UK Trade and Industry which focused on investment in the North.
The Conservatives used their conference in Manchester to show they are serious about developing infrastructure, increasing investment and further devolving powers to the North.
James Wharton has commented on the importance of the North to the Government’s agenda saying that other ministers are now desperate to find a Northern Powerhouse angle to their own projects believing that this will increase the chances of the treasury giving it a green light.
It will be interesting to see if over the course of the next 12 months all of the rhetoric becomes reality.