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Tue, 11 August 2020

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A New Deal for the North will ensure the region thrives after coronavirus

A New Deal for the North will ensure the region thrives after coronavirus

We have an opportunity to radically transform how the country is run. South Yorkshire and the North has the ambition to build back better, says Dan Jarvis MP | Credit: PA Image

5 min read

As we face the biggest economic shock in a generation, we need local leaders to be in the driving seat if our regions are to bounce back and thrive.

Covid-19 has put our country in unchartered territory and caused unprecedented turbulence to our way of life.

In South Yorkshire, where I represent the region as Mayor, I see first-hand the impact this has on families, jobs and businesses and the size of the challenge we face to rebuild.

However, today, we become stronger in our fight back against the pandemic.

The order for the Sheffield City Region Devolution Deal will be laid before Parliament, meaning we will secure new powers and funding at a time when they are needed most.

The deal, originally agreed between the region’s leaders and the then Chancellor George Osborne and Treasury Minister Jim O’Neill, means £30 a year in additional funding will be available to support our economy and businesses.

It contains the adult skills budget so we can unlock opportunities for meaningful training to help people get on and find work.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we cannot afford to return to business as usual.

We will have transport powers so we can deliver better bus, tram and train services. South Yorkshire can make decisions about the issues people living here care about – better jobs, opportunities and public services.

Progress has been frustratingly slow reaching this point, and while South Yorkshire has not had the same powers at our disposal as other regions, having a Mayor has made a clear difference to people’s lives.

We’ve helped 6,000 people find training and work through our Working Win trial. We secured £170m from government to transform our transport network. We have brought people together and shown leadership on our economy to secure £319m investment, support 24,000 companies and attract world-leading companies such as McLaren and Boeing to locate and invest in South Yorkshire.

This shows the power of devolution and the success we can deliver when given the tools to get on with the job.

As we face the biggest economic shock in a generation, we need local leaders to be in the driving seat if our regions are to bounce back and thrive.

The Prime Minister is due to give a speech in the coming days which will set out the Government’s economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In South Yorkshire and across the North, we will be watching closely to see whether the government’s manifesto commitment to level up the country will be put into action.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we cannot afford to return to business as usual.

The top-down approach of the public health response showed its limitations, with difficulties securing PPE, a faltering testing regime and a lack of local data stymieing efforts to get the virus under control.

The Government cannot afford to make the same mistakes in its economic response.

What we have across England is still too often delegation, not devolution, with regions dependent on handouts that are often tied to projects and policies aligned with Westminster’s priorities, not ours.

Rebalancing national investment to strengthen our skills, innovation, and transport could add £97bn to the Northern economy by 2050.

Analysis suggests the dent on the economy from the coronavirus will match that of the Great Depression.

Rebalancing national investment to strengthen our skills, innovation, and transport could add £97bn to the Northern economy by 2050.

With the worst regional inequality of any comparable nation, now is the time for change. This requires an urgent step change in investment to deliver a bold, comprehensive, coherent plan, that does not simply react to the immediate crisis but also addresses our fundamental structural challenges, and importantly, which empowers the North rather than dictating to it.

Last week, I wrote to the Chancellor setting out what I believe is required to match the scale of that challenge and put us on a different course.

We need a New Deal for the North, which unlocks a stronger, fairer, greener future for our economy and society. It means a radical shift of powers and resources away from Westminster to the Northern Powerhouse, so we can finally unlock the North’s potential and thrive after Covid.

We need a New Deal for the North, which unlocks a stronger, fairer, greener future for our economy and society.

The deal is built on radical investment in infrastructure and success stories like South Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which is the natural home for the MIT for the North, a concept based on the world-renowned partnership between academia and industry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

This approach has been a magnet for new businesses and high-pay, high productivity jobs – we should emulate that success here. It means accelerating a Green New Deal to reach net zero emissions, and revolutionising apprenticeships, skills and training to end inequalities.

It goes hand in hand with a change in how the Government does business with the regions, by giving Mayors a role in the Covid economic response, shifting Treasury staff out of London to the North and rewriting the Green Book which perpetuates imbalances between London and the South East and the rest of the country.

Taken together, it means Mayors will be able to tackle the fundamental problems that hold our economy and society back, rather than tinkering at the edges.

We have an opportunity to radically transform how the country is run. South Yorkshire and the North has the ambition to build back better.

Now the Government must deliver its side of the deal if it serious about levelling up.

Dan Jarvis is Mayor of the Sheffield City Region and MP for Barnsley Central

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