The North of England is a special place. Home to some of the world’s top universities and colleges, the founding place of key ideologies and the birthplace of some of our country’s greatest engineers.
The North is known for the uniqueness of its cities, and I have long made the point that it is vital that these great cities work together.
We cannot build a strong economy and a strong United Kingdom unless we spread opportunity.
The Northern Powerhouse scheme aims to do exactly that, and I fully support its aims to bring together these cities to rebalance the North-South economic divide.
The Conservative Party conference in Manchester was the first with a Conservative majority government in 20 years. Yet, perhaps even more historic than that, was to see the vision of the Northern Powerhouse at its heart.
We are on the verge of a £1.5billion devolution deal. I have long supported the concept of a Mayor and, among many other things, this deal will make that aspiration a reality.
Significantly, it will see the Government channel a non-ring-fenced £30million a year into a newly-established North East Investment Fund. This will be vital for our area, pumping in much-needed investment to help boost businesses and create jobs.
For the first time, regional leaders will take control of the adult skills budget, while a skills board will oversee a comprehensive review of the post-16 education, skills and employment support system in the North East. This will help ensure that our children are getting the best possible education.
The deal has a strong emphasis on skills and rural growth, but also, crucially, transport.
I have long championed the need for better investment in our transport infrastructure. This devolution deal will push towards the re-invigoration of the Tyne and Wear Metro.
It also asks for the North East Combined Authority to oversee the Northern Rail franchise.
A pan-North East transport strategy would bring rail, local highways, Metro, buses and ferries under one system.
A bus regulation scheme that spans beyond Tyne and Wear to County Durham and Northumberland will also form part of the deal.
The Northern Powerhouse will bring investment to the North East and North West in a way that has never been done before.
The building of HS3 cross-Pennine railway, plus the billion pound investment in Manchester Airport’s expansion, are cornerstones of this transport plan.
The Treasury has declared that £13billion will be invested in improving the transport infrastructure between northern cities and towns.
By using the existing skills the North has to offer and working together, we hope to attract new investment to Northern cities and create a unified economic area and a long-term, stable plan for future generations to rely on.
The redistribution of power has already shown signs of having real, positive effects. Manchester has become the first English region to have full control over its healthcare budget — a sum of £6billion. The integration of the health and social care services is reducing pressure on hospitals and allowing it to focus more on the home care services for the patients who truly need it.
The Northern Powerhouse will not only bring a stronger economy for the future, but will also focus on arts, as well as sciences and innovation.
I welcome the Chancellor’s efforts to create a Northern Powerhouse. I have been impressed by the benefits in Manchester. There is no reason, in my view, things cannot be as successful from Newcastle to Sunderland and from Durham to Northumberland.
We cannot build a strong economy, and a strong United Kingdom, unless we spread opportunity to every part of this land. The Northern Powerhouse is making this happen and a devolution deal will change the political landscape. I am excited to see the benefits it will bring.