A newspaper launches today in the shape of the New Day, while another lives out its few remaining old days in print: strange times for newspapers, so let’s give today’s Independent its due.
The newspaper, soon to be digital only, leads with a Northern Powerhouse story linked to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Indy has always been good at this sort of concept packaging, good at giving a story the necessary punch and heft.
Many people in the North will be naturally sceptical about this powerhouse, suspecting it is little more than a sturdy-seemed metaphor dreamed up by George Osborne while twirling round in a hi-viz jacket and wearing a hard hat. What the Chancellor gets up to in the privacy of his bedroom in his own business, but this hi-viz obsession for the news cameras really is ridiculous.
Are we meant to look at George, George with his soured expression, George with his silly haircut, George with his random moods of pinched meanness and vanishing pocket-plunging generosity, and think: bless me but that man knows the North what with his hard hat and all?
The Independent story is drawn from the report by a York-based foundation which has long examined poverty, with its roots in Seebohm Rowntree’s pioneering investigation, Poverty: A Study of Town Life, first published in 1901. This new report takes a peep inside Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, perhaps through one of the broken windows, and sees that ten of the UK’s 12 towns and cities in greatest economic decline are in the North.
Rochdale, Burnley, Bolton, Blackburn and Hull lead the list of places affected by low employment and population growth, while not a single town in the South appears among the 24 listed places. Grimsby is ranked sixth, Bradford ninth and Liverpool 19th.
The JRF report is in anticipation of next month’s budget, and calls on the Northern Powerhouse to embrace all parts of the North, and asks “city leaders to harness their new economic powers and resources to create opportunities for the people and places who have previously been left behind”.
The report points out that the Northern Powerhouse and devolution agenda has focused on the biggest cities in the country, with devolution deals already signed for areas such as Greater Manchester and Sheffield City Region – but argues that the effects must be spread wider, with towns and people outside of those core areas sharing in the benefits of investment and devolution.
Well, yes – quite so. What the report seems too polite to ask is whether or not the Northern Powerhouse really exists at all, or if it is only a duplicitous concept dreamed up by George Osborne while admiring himself in the mirror – “My but don’t I look good in a hard hat.”
Now in the name of fairness, it is possible that the Northern Powerhouse is a fantastic idea that will bring great benefits to the upper part of the country; possible that Osborne is entirely genuine in his wish to bridge that north-south divide with a wobbling plank. Yes, that is possible, but not that many people in the North will swallow such an idea, will they?
Josh Stott, policy and research manager at the Foundation, says that the Northern Powerhouse could play a key role in rebalancing the economy – but adds that it must “reach all parts of the North to ensure prosperity is shared. To rebalance the economy and ensure local growth provides opportunity for all households, the Treasury needs to ensure areas outside of Core Cities are not left behind.”
Quite so again. Also, how are we to trust this inconstant Chancellor? Only months ago he found untold billions tucked down the back of the Treasury sofa; and now he is warning of more cuts to come because of a downturn in the economy.
Dear me, George, you do tease us so with your dance of the seven hi-viz veils.