Refrain from pitting North v South in the General Election
19 November 2019
Only days into the formal General Election campaign period and already the die appears to be cast. The emerging narrative is going back to that well-trodden ground of pitting North versus South with the familiar refrain that the South gets everything at the expense of the North.
Fair enough, some might say – you’ve had your turn – and there’s no doubt that parts of the north have suffered from a lack of public funds – whether that’s for transport or for flood defences – and no one could fail to be moved by the devastation caused in Yorkshire.
There’s no doubt London is a wealthy city. But less known is the fact that it also has the highest rate of household and child poverty of any English region. Disposable incomes have been squeezed in the capital, just as they have for the rest of the country. Average household income, after housing costs, is no higher in London than the rest of the UK. Local government cuts have affected London’s boroughs, just as they have towns across the country. And all parts of the country have suffered from under-investment in infrastructure.
This election comes at a critical time. Brexit looms large, and many seeking office are hoping to lure voters with the carrot of investment in their local communities. However, it is a zero-sum game to play off the north against the south, and all parties should avoid doing so. London and England’s other great city-regions are not islands. We operate interdependently within the UK, and the challenges we face in London are not unique to the capital.
The main political parties have all championed the need for infrastructure – in the north. This is vital to the prosperity of the country as a whole, and a recent report we published alongside Northern Powerhouse Partnership and North West Business Leadership Team showed that businesses in London and the south saw clear value in the investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail. However, the report also showed that businesses in the north felt the same about Crossrail 2.
Infrastructure – both physical and digital – acts as a connector within cities, across the UK and as a gateway to the world. The next government must implement the National Infrastructure Assessment, and invest a minimum of 1.2% of GDP on critical infrastructure. Commit to HS2 and deliver it into Euston, back Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail 2, and continue with plans for Heathrow expansion, alongside investment in other regional airports: unlock jobs, housing and growth across the UK. Crucially, investment on this scale will show every corner of the UK that the next government is serious about helping every region grow together.
Coupled with this is greater devolved responsibility. Brexit will mean the repatriation of a great number of powers to the UK, and different regions will require different settlements. Many parts of the country, London included, are ripe for a new wave of devolution and this matters: local people often know best what should be done to improve the places they live, work and play.
London and the rest of the UK depend on each other for their success. The UK is small, and its cities and regions should benefit from their proximity to each other. Politicians of all parties should avoid the easy option of favouring one part of the country at the expense of another. Instead the focus should be on ensuring that the regions are better connected, sharing, learning, and growing together.
This article was originally published in Times Red Box on November 18. For more information and to subscribe, visit www.thetimes.co.uk/redbox
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