London Evening Standard editor George Osborne spoke to East Cheshire Hospice’s business briefing event about the Northern Powerhouse Partnership yesterday.
Speaking at the event, held in Alderley Park, the former chancellor told an audience of hospice patrons, stakeholders and local business delegates that he wanted the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which he spearheaded while in government and remains deeply involved in, to be “not just a slogan and not just another speech”.
The partnership was devised to help cities in the North of England: in comparison to London, which Osborne called a “global success story”, he pointed out that northern cities did not individually have the “critical mass” to compete in a global market. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership would see the major cities of the North – Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle – operate as a single economic unit, leading to a rebalanced national economy across the UK.
Covering electoral autonomy, transport infrastructure, regional science and engineering projects; and education and skills training, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership aims to cultivate and augment the region’s strengths through investment and regeneration.
After setting out the history and future of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Osborne took questions from the audience:
Do you believe the Northern Powerhouse Partnership would be beneficial to London and the South-East?
Londoners tend to think anything outside the Circle Line is irrelevant; and Northerners tend to think the same of the South – but it benefits everyone in the North to have one of the great global cities two hours away; and similarly it benefits London not to be simply a city state.
Post-Brexit, how much global opportunity will there be for the Northern Powerhouse Partnership?
The cities of Northern England are known around the world – China’s national government in Beijing has been engaged in investing in the project. But whatever happens after Brexit, we’ll always do more business [as a country] with countries like Germany and France. We just need to reassure the world that we can still do business.
What is the Northern Powerhouse Partnership doing to ensure the next generation of UK taxpayers has the skills needed to thrive in the future?
The original concept for the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was missing education and skills from its plan and that’s something I want to fix. Education in the North does need to improve – at primary level standards are close to those in the South-East, but the gap widens for secondary schools. We need more engagement from the business community to introduce children to the world of work through investment and apprenticeships, which are like a sexier version of further education.
Is enough being done for medical and pharmaceutical companies to be comfortable doing business with and in Britain after Brexit?
To all intents and purposes we asked ourselves the same question in 1972 and 2016: are we comfortable trading a degree of sovereignty for economic access? In some ways we’ve already traded our sovereignty – if Russia were to attack Ukraine tomorrow we would automatically be at war with Russia, because we’re a member of NATO.
After leaving the EU we will need to continue to align with EU rules or else we’ll lose EU trade. Medical and pharmaceutical companies won’t stay here if they think there will be a different set of rules in the UK to those in the EU.
The former chancellor ended the Northern Powerhouse Partnership business briefing with an appeal for donations to East Cheshire Hospice, where he was vice president for many years while MP for nearby Tatton. From the briefing Osborne went on to appear on Newsnight, where he expressed vague regret for violent comments he had previously made directed at UK Prime Minister Theresa May and was confronted by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee about the damage caused by austerity measures he introduced as chancellor.