We are seemingly awash with talk about the Northern Powerhouse – the government’s attempt through central funds and devolution of responsibility to drive an economic uplift in major cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds.
It is crucial investment – money to improve infrastructure, to help youngsters develop new skills and to encourage enterprise amongst others. The theory is also sound – an attempt to better balance the UK economy and to make it less reliant on growth from London. Building a stronger economy in the north will encourage more domestic and foreign investment there and entice more people to develop careers and build lives there. What you hope is that it is only the start. That other regions of the UK may also benefit from similar focus and strategy but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Perhaps chancellor George Osborne is fixated on the North for some reason. Perhaps he is a Liverpool fan with dreams of the swaying Kop or a supporter of tough and unyielding Yorkshire cricket. Perhaps he enjoys literary tales centred around “Satanic Mills” and downtrodden workers in cloth caps. What you hope is that he doesn’t think that the South of England is some kind of economic paradise with people swishing around in yachts or heading to the races on a Saturday afternoon with clinking champagne bottles in the boot of the BMW. Read more about the Northern Powerhouse:
Of course, it’s not like that especially the further west you go into the regions of Somerset and Cornwall. Indeed Cornwall regularly comes out ranked as not only one of the poorest regions in the UK but also in Europe. That is a surprise no doubt to anyone who has witnessed the roads leading to the south-west this summer, regularly crammed with vehicles travelling from the south-east. David Cameron took one of his many vacations there and other celebrities like to talk about their love of the regions and their holiday homes by the sea. Cornwall especially is reliant on holidaymakers. The Poldark days of tin mining riches have long gone. When the holidaymakers begin to depart, around this time of year in September and October, then the money squeeze for hundreds of hoteliers and café owners as well as their suppliers begins to hit. These are the firms that cry when do-gooders in the Guardian squeal about the inequities of zero-hours contracts. Without these contracts those hoteliers would have to keep their students and part-time mums and dads on full-time contracts even when they were not needed. But that is another argument. What chancellor Osborne needs to do is to soak up some of the love his boss Cameron has for the south-west and start talking about a western powerhouse as well. To have a region of the UK so far behind in a European economic table is scandalous and for so little to be done to improve the situation is even worse. You could argue that the west does not have the industrial infrastructure and heritage of the north. Not the same size of population and certainly not the infrastructure such as major airports. But the government should look at what it does have. If the basis of the region is tourism then work on that, develop it. Perhaps look at building or extending existing airports such as Newquay or Exeter. Get into the schools and universities such as Plymouth and encourage skills in existing sectors such as tourism but also try and develop entrepreneurial skills. Market the region to stressed out Londoners looking to live their dream and set up a new business. Market the location – nowadays people can work from anywhere with a phone and a laptop. Oh and mentioning laptops ensure that the broadband coverage in the region is drastically improved. Businesses in the region can also help themselves. Don’t worry about condescending talk that the west is all about tourism and agriculture and little about industry. If it is all about tourism then work out ways where businesses can continue to benefit even in the winter months. Work more closely with each other, the local councils and the tourist boards. Market your region abroad to the Chinese or the Americans and encourage them to come. If they do come en masse – Chinese tourists in buses are a regular sight racing through parts of the UK such as heading towards Bicester Village retail park – then there should be communications between all businesses and the tourist board about when and where they are coming and how everyone can help each other. After they go and see a Poldark tin mine then direct them to the high street and the cafes. But returning to the central point – it needs to be backed by investment and help from central government. Will it come? You worry that all of this investment in the north may mean that investment in other regions suffer and certainly the people and businesses in the west can’t afford for that to happen.
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