George Osborne launches body to promote 'Northern Powerhouse' project


Former chancellor George Osborne will launch a new think-tank today amid fears his "Northern Powerhouse" project is losing steam.

Mr Osborne will launch and chair the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, an independent group, including politicians and business leaders, to help push the agenda of greater powers and investment for the regions to boost jobs and growth.

But the "Northern Powerhouse" initiative, launched by Mr Osborne in 2014, is now being questioned.

Mr Osborne, who championed the idea in his tenure as chancellor, was sacked by new Prime Minister Theresa May, and is now out of the cabinet.

And Mrs May has spoken of a broader "proper" industrial strategy, nationwide, rather than a regional focus solely on the north.

And senior Labour politicians in the north have recently spoken of Whitehall briefings casting doubt on the new Prime Minister's commitment to the agenda.

The Northern Powerhouse aims to devolve powers and money from Whitehall to northern city regions in a bid to boost their economic performance.

Plans included new investment in north-south high-speed rail, HS2, and an east-west version, HS3, linking the belt of northern cities from Liverpool to Hull, via Manchester and Leeds.

The plans also included the election of 'metro' mayors for bigger city-regions, including for Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

But Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, both MPs and Labour's candidates for the mayoral elections in Manchester and Liverpool, recently warned Theresa May that pulling the plug on the "Northern Powerhouse" agenda would be, "as big a betrayal as the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher pulled the plug on our industries".

Mr Osborne, now a Tory backbencher, will today launch the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, claiming: "The Northern Powerhouse is here to stay."

He said: "When I launched the idea of Northern Powerhouse I said I would work tirelessly with anyone and everyone to make it a reality. But even I have been taken aback by the huge support it's attracted, across political parties, businesses and communities.

"In the space of just two years, we've created powerful new mayors, committed to huge new transport and science projects, and attracted investment from around the world. 

"There's a real excitement now in the north about what we can achieve if we work together. 

"I don't want us to lose that. That's why I'm so pleased major businesses, civic leaders and others have worked with me to create this new Northern Powerhouse Partnership. I'm also glad that the Government has given its support."

Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: "This Government realises the huge untapped potential of our great northern towns and cities. That is why I warmly welcome the launch of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

"I hope it will become an important part of the debate and help us to do all we can to further boost jobs, growth and opportunities in the north of England."

Ed Cox, director of Institute of Public Policy Research North (IPPR North), said: "We warmly welcome a new think-tank focused on the North of England.

"IPPR North has long argued that to make the North the most progressive place in Europe, we need more policy ideas, not fewer.

"This can only reinforce the reality that the Northern Powerhouse is far less a Whitehall programme and far more an initiative driven by northern business, innovation and leadership.

"It remains to be seen whether this new think-tank will develop an inclusive approach to the Northern economy because to date, George Osborne's Northern Powerhouse has been too narrowly focused on big cities and metro mayors - vital as these are, they will not address the economic and social challenges raised by the Brexit vote."

Mr Osborne will launch the new body at a press conference in Manchester later today.