Friday 1 April 2016

The "northern powerhouse" myth


To pretty much everyone bar Tory party tribalists George Osborne's "Northern Powerhouse" is already a standing joke. I'm still going to write an article criticising it though, because even though an awful lot of people see Tory references to the "Northern Powerhouse" as the smug and contemptuous Orwellian propaganda that it is, it's still worth compiling some of the evidence so that people know exactly how bad it is.

Local government cuts

The Tories are always banging on about investment in the north, but what they don't say is that since 2010 they've slashed £3.9 billion from local council budgets in the north. Investing a few million here and a few million there whilst slashing almost £4 billion across the region is a classic example of the Tory strategy of giving with one hand, and robbing an awful lot more with the other.

It's absolutely clear that the majority of Tory local government cuts have hit the industrial north, south Wales, deprived parts of London and parts of the midlands, while wealthy Tory councils in London, the Home Counties and the rural north have got off much more lightly, or even ended up with funding increases!

When Tories (including David Cameron's own Oxfordshire council and his own mother) started complaining about the brutal effects of the local council cuts they were suffering, they announced a two year £300 million fund, 83% of which was directed at wealthy Tory councils, with only a tiny fraction for urban councils in the north that have borne much more severe cuts than the wealthy Tory voting councils.

Some "Northern Powerhouse" eh?

Re-branding existing infrastructure projects as Tory schemes

One of the biggest complaints about the "Northern Powerhouse" is how the Tories have dressed up pre-existing infrastructure projects as "Northern Powerhouse" initiatives. All but two of the so-called "Northern Powerhouse" infrastructure schemes were announced before it even existed, and three of them were actually announced by the New Labour government before the Tories came to power in 2010!

There are only two directly funded infrastructure projects that have been announced since "Northern Powerhouse" came into existence. One is the project to turn the M60 into a "smart motorway" and the other is a road upgrade to the A556, which goes through George Osborne's own constituency!

The "Northern Powerhouse" turns out to be a bit like how the Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed credit for the London cycle hire scheme that became known as "Boris Bikes", even though the project was originally conceived under the leadership of his Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone.

Struggling towns

Research by the Joseph Rowntree foundation showed that 10 of 12 of the most struggling towns are in the "Northern Powerhouse", while not a single town in the south features in the top 24 towns in most serious economic decline.   

The research found that the places in most serious decline were:
  1. Rochdale (north)
  2. Burnley (north)
  3. Bolton (north)
  4. Blackburn (north)
  5. Hull (north)
  6. Grimsby (north)
  7. Dundee (Scotland)
  8. Middlesbrough (north) 
  9. Bradford (north)
  10. Blackpool (north)
  11. Stoke (midlands)
  12. Wigan (north)
It's not just that these places are economically deprived, it's that they are in sustained economic decline, which is completely at odds with all the Tory propaganda about rebalancing the UK economy.

When confronted with these appalling findings the Tory "Northern Powerhouse" minister James Wharton refused to comment.

Vast spending disparities

George Osborne's "Northern Powerhouse" propaganda often features claims that the purpose is to rebalance the UK economy in favour of the north, but a look at the figures proves beyond doubt that the UK economy is still being heavily rebalanced in favour of London.

For every £1 per person that gets spent on infrastructure investment in the north east, London gets £24 per person in investment.

The idea that the economy can be rebalanced in favour of the north when London gets 24x the per capita infrastructure investment as the north east would be laughable if it weren't such a serious economic imbalance.

The "brain drain"

Everyone who grew up in the north is well aware of the "brain drain" towards London and the wealthy south. Everyone from the north knows plenty of people who abandoned their own region to find better jobs down south.

In order to create better jobs in the north and allow people to find good employment in their own region, the government needs to stop brutally slashing local government funding in the north and do some serious infrastructure investment, rather than just funding a few road improvements and repeatedly re-announcing existing infrastructure projects as if they represent new investment.

London is massively overcrowded, but big employers are unlikely to choose the north of England over London because northern infrastructure has been so badly neglected for so long, and London continues to get the lion's share of new investment.

The "Northern Powerhouse" is based in London!

Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of George Osborne's "Northern Powerhouse" is that 97% of the staff it employs are based in London!

George Osborne talks about devolving power to the north, but the fact that almost his entire "Northern Powerhouse" team are based in London proves that his idea of devolution is London technocrats distributing political favours on an ad hoc basis to northern yokels who are far too backwards to run their own affairs for themselves.

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More articles from
George Osborne's 2016 budget of failure
Asset stripping "bankrupt Britain"
The Tory ideological mission
Austerity is a con

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