Dear Prime Minister
COMMITMENT TO THE NORTHERN POWERHOUSE
As Chancellor, George Osborne may have inflicted the biggest revenue cuts on the North but at least he recognised the unbalanced nature of our country and devolved significant powers away from Westminster under his 'Northern Powerhouse' concept.
However, under your Government, I notice that you have decided not to continue with a designated Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and, with George Osborne's departure, there is no obvious champion for it left in Government.
A week into office, you and your Chancellor have yet to give any public statement of support for the Northern Powerhouse. This is making people suspicious that your Government is preparing to row back on the whole idea.
If this is true, I believe it would be a major political mistake and entirely the wrong response to the result of the EU Referendum.
What we saw in the Referendum was a stronger Leave vote in the North compared to the rest of the country. This result, particularly in former industrial areas, does not just reflect concern about immigration but a much deeper sense of alienation from a Westminster politics that has failed to provide answers for their communities over many decades. Our Westminster system has created a very divided and unequal country.
Entering Downing Street last week, you pledged to close these divides in our society and fight the "burning injustices" that exist between different parts of the country and different social classes. I welcome your words but, if they are to have any real meaning, you must back them up with real money and fully embrace the Northern Powerhouse project. It must be a crucial part of the Government's response to the Referendum result.
Specifically, I would ask you to make four important commitments:
First, both you and the Chancellor need to make an early and unequivocal statement of support for the Northern Powerhouse concept. You cannot leave this much longer; your silence on it is making people suspicious.
Second, you should give a clear commitment that more neglected parts of our country will not lose out from Brexit. Over the years, having struggled to get money out of Westminster, many have succeeded in prizing structural funds from the Europe Union. Greater Manchester is now predicting the loss of £320 million in EU structural funding up to 2020 on top of the £1 billion hole Osborne left in its public service finances. You must ask the Treasury to protect these communities from any potential losses.
Third, I believe you should set a new top transport priority for the country: investment in east-west rail across the North linking its great cities. Our train services are light years behind London. It simply cannot be the case that Crossrail 2 is the highest priority for transport investment in our country. I would go as far to argue that HS3 is an even higher and earlier priority than HS2. I have been told this week that the Government is looking to prune back elements of the HS2 scheme which will in turn limit the potential for HS3. As Prime Minister, you must rule out any possibility of that and make a firm commitment to HS3. In advance of that, you should make improvements to existing rail services across the North an urgent priority.
Fourth, you should be prepared to take devolution in England even further and signal that this is only the start of the journey. One of the biggest missing pieces in the Greater Manchester devolution deal is the Department for Work and Pensions budget. By linking it to our community and voluntary groups, and breaking down the silos with other public services, we could achieve much greater returns for the taxpayer.
In a post-Brexit Britain, the Northern Powerhouse concept and investment becomes even more important. If your Government fails to show these areas that it has listened and understood the message they sent last month, then the political crisis in our country will only deepen.
People here remember a previous Tory Prime Minister standing on the steps and quoting St Francis of Assisi and see a wide gap open up between her word and her deeds. To prevent history repeating itself, I would urge you to act quickly to make clear your personal commitment to investing in the North and rebalancing our country.
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP