The upcoming Budget is an opportunity for this Government to act and to show that it is committed to levelling up Northern Britain, while at the same time strengthening our Union.
As a former Secretary of State for Wales, a Northern Metro Mayor and a Member of Parliament for a key Red Wall seat, we believe we are well placed to plot a path out of the pandemic which will see us grasp the benefits of leaving the EU and work to narrow division between the North and South, as well as metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.
These divisions have been laid bare by the current crisis. Not only have many areas of Wales, Scotland and the North of England been hit harder by this crisis than the rest of the country, but we have also been in lockdown for longer. The UK already has a 19-year healthy lifespan differential between the richest areas of the South and the poorest in the North. That figure is likely to be exacerbated by the higher death and infection rates of Covid in the North.
That is why we are backing the Northern Research Group’s call on the Treasury to kickstart our Northern Economy, by hitting the fast-forward button on Northern infrastructure. We do not mean only the big-ticket items like Northern Powerhouse Rail (although the Prime Minister’s commitment to this is welcome), but regionally significant schemes that can be delivered faster and make the biggest difference. This infrastructure revolution must also prioritise cross-border connectivity to support significant existing economic geographies in the Borderlands and corridors linking the North of England and Wales.
And in the intervening period, we must acknowledge that Covid has sunk its claws deep into the North, with some areas having been subject to restrictions for most of the last 12 months. That is why we are adding our voices to the other 48 MPs calling for the continuance of economic support for both business and communities. If we blink now, many families will go hungry, jobs will be unnecessarily lost, and businesses will close. Just as the Prime Minister has asked the nation to knuckle down to one last set of restrictions so that we can roll out the vaccine, it’s time for one more heave from the Treasury to ensure our recovery.
That’s why we’re calling on the Chancellor to announce a cut in stamp duty, mortgage holidays extended and the temporary top-up to Universal Credit at least until lockdown is lifted. And the Government must provide some stability to business by confirming the extension of the business rate holiday, delaying bounce back loan repayments and supporting leisure and tourism with the continuance of the 5 per cent VAT rate.
We know this is not cheap; however, we must face up to the fact that unless we keep going, we will see many families and businesses suffer. This could mean that ultimately much of the money we have spent so far will have been wasted.
As we seek to build back better after Covid, and with levelling up in mind, we must find a new way of doing things. Most people in the United Kingdom do not live in cities and if we are ever to “level-up” it is imperative that the civil service understands what life is like outside metropolitan areas. Moving significant parts of the civil service out of London is a good start. However, this must include the most senior of roles, up to and including Permanent Secretaries, and these moves should default to non-metropolitan areas of the North.
We want to see the Treasury North Campus move to Teesside, but this must be the first of many. Once civil servants are “under the skin” of these towns, we are sure they will agree with us that, although the changes to the “Green Book” calculations for spending taxpayers’ money are welcome, they are not enough on its own. It is time to level up by fully funding and expanding Town Deals and to come forward with a Northern Economic Recovery Plan.
At the last election voters across the North of Britain voted for change. No one could have predicted this crisis. However, it is an opportunity not just to build back better, but to build back a better United Kingdom.
David Jones MP, Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley, and Imran Ahmad Khan MP write on behalf of the Northern Research Group
— to www.telegraph.co.uk