The time has come for the government to empower the north to build a strong and inclusive economy, writes Rosie Corrigan
Being proud of the place that you call home is a pretty special feeling, and there is no denying the overwhelming sense of pride that people feel in the north of England.
From the innovative energy sector in the north-west, to advanced manufacturing developments in the north-east, to the explosion of culture in Yorkshire and the Humber – the north has been an exciting, innovative and busy region over recent years thanks to the people and businesses who take pride in being here.
It is therefore welcome news that figures released last week show that over the last year, the North’s productivity grew at twice the rate of London’s. Productivity has grown by 1.8 per cent compared to London’s 0.9 per cent. In fact, contrary to common perceptions, the north’s productivity has grown at the same rate as London in the last five years, at nine per cent.
Sadly though, the north has not kept apace with London’s output and employment growth, and too many northerners have not felt the benefits of an increase in productivity. Yet, the north continues to strive in spite of deep structural imbalances.
Worryingly, any positivity about this productivity news will go to waste if we do not secure a Brexit that works for the north, and indeed for all of the regions and nations of the UK.
The Government’s regional Brexit impact assessments have confirmed predictions and fears that the north is at greater risk from Brexit than London. In fact, the north-east could be the worst affected of all regions and nations, seeing an 11 per cent impact on its economy under a free trade deal, and a whopping 16 per cent in the case of a no deal.
The reason for this is that northern supply chains are more closely integrated with the EU, meaning that life after Brexit will be a particular challenge to northern businesses. This is why it is so important that the government stops stalling and publishes the detail of their impact assessments. This will provide northern businesses with much needed time and information to help them prepare for the challenges ahead.
Local industrial strategies are an important aspect of government’s modern industrial strategy but they will have limited impact unless they are combined with more widespread and more radical devolution deals. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that England’s productivity problem is regional in shape and what we miss most of all are the institutions necessary to drive strategic economic development with the scale and scope of London, Scotland and most other European regions. While England is too large, our city-regions are too small to compete on the global stage.
At IPPR North we have long argued for a northern Brexit committee to make the case for pan-northern sectoral interests in EU trade negotiations – Andy Burnham has argued for something similar with a committee of nations and regions. Whatever form it takes, recent news shows that the north of England – representing one fifth of the national economy – has a lot to lose if it does not have a clear and consistent voice.
March 2019 is fast approaching. The time has come for government to empower the north to prepare itself for life after Brexit, and to build a strong and inclusive economy. And if it works for the north, it will work for the nation too. But time is of the essence – the Brexit storm is on the horizon, and we urgently need the tools to build a shelter.
Rosie Corrigan is media and campaigns manager at IPPR North. She tweets @Rosie_Corrigan.
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