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Richard Bonner

Northern Cities Director

In the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s confidence vote on Monday evening, I was invited onto Channel 4 News to discuss the implications on policy and focus for the Government going forwards.

Inevitably we turned our attention to Levelling Up, and questions about whether we are seeing the benefits unfold. There is a mixed picture of activity which seems to be limited in scale and ambition. In our work with many Local Authorities across the North and wider parts of England we see two key challenges. Firstly, their capacity to compete against each other to bid for limited pots of Levelling Up and Future High Street Funds and secondly, the challenge of linking these bids to longer term strategic investment plans.

The National Audit Office has recognised the challenges that this brings, and we think that there is an opportunity for the Government to look at how these funds are more equitably and strategically allocated to devolved administrations and adjoining local authorities. That said, we have seen some excellent examples of where these funds are being deployed, and in Sunderland, £45million of funding is being used to transform the city centre creating one of the first carbon neutral quarters in the UK through an innovative partnership between the local authority, central government and the private sector. In Barnsley, the council has secured £15million of Future High Street Funding to support a series of measures anchored by their SEAM project which will support the growth of the town’s digital quarter and the transformation of the town centre.

We discussed the announcement by the Government to remove the Golborne Link from the plans to link HS2 to Manchester. The Golborne Link is needed to prevent a bottleneck north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line, creating much-needed passenger and freight capacity on our overcrowded rail network, as well as supporting high speed connectivity with Scotland. Snipping away at these large-scale transport infrastructure plans massively undermines their economic potential, and undermines the apparent commitments from Government to supporting the North with their levelling up ambitions. Even if it keeps a few backbenchers happy in the short-term, in the long-term the north’s productivity will remain constrained by poor connectivity, which in turn hinders business investment and limits opportunities for people growing up here.

Finally, we turned to Brexit. Through my work with the Chambers of Commerce we are observing some very worrying signs that many manufacturers - particularly SME’s, who are turning away in their droves from exporting to Europe - are noting that the red tape, customs, and logistics challenges are impacting with much higher costs and uncertainty in shipping their products. New markets are not sufficiently attractive either. The Government clearly need to do more to work with business and stakeholders to support organisations in exporting, particularly in working to reduce the red tape and costs which are crippling to many.

Watch Richard’s interview here:

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