Dan Jarvis’ speech delivered today to the IPPR North conference about devolving power away from London and growing the northern economy.
WHEN I was growing up under the Tory governments of the 80s and 90s, discussions about our Northern regions too often sounded like something from Brassed Off – that great British film about a miners’ band whose pit was on the brink of closure. It’s a film I often think about because of the history of the place I represent.
Barnsley is a community built on coal. We were a town that powered the Industrial Revolution and kept the lights on in good times and bad. People in Barnsley are proud of our mining heritage. But we know that the future we want for our kids won’t be found underground. You can almost explain it in one word: Orgreave. Say it in my part of the world and many people’s minds will turn to bitter memories of the Miner’s Strike. But if you go down the road to Orgreave colliery today, it’s home to the Advanced Manufacturing Park.
Created under the last Labour government, it’s the result of partnerships between Boeing, Rolls Royce and the University of Sheffield. It’s become one of the leading hubs for new technologies and training a skilled workforce that’s already the envy of companies across the world. It’s an example of why we shouldn’t define our northern regions by their past, but by their promise and potential.
Together the combined economies of the North West, North East and Yorkshire & Humber are worth almost £300bn. If it were a country, it would be the 10th largest economy in Europe.
But too much potential is being wasted. From poverty to productivity, the North is still lagging behind the South. And the North is ageing fast because too many of our young people feel the only route to fulfilling their dreams is a move closer to London.
Overcoming these challenges is not a provincial question – it should be a national priority. That’s why I don’t want to spend the next five years rubbishing the idea of a Northern Powerhouse. I want Labour to reclaim the devolution agenda and lead the debate about how we shape it according to our values.
First, devolution should give people a genuine say in the future of their neighbourhoods. We don’t want powers shifted from Whitehall to the Town Hall only for the public to still to be left on the outside looking in. Labour councils all over the UK are showing the positive difference that putting power in people’s hands can make.
Second, we need to give communities the tools they need to invest in innovation and unlock the opportunities of tomorrow.
Our Northern infrastructure is creaking and the lion’s share of infrastructure investment is still concentrated in London. That’s why I’ve written to the newly-formed National Infrastructure Commission to suggest that one of their first tasks should be to review the North/South infrastructure divide. An independent assessment could help inform regional planning and ensure that local decisions are integrated with national interests.
Third, devolution must be underpinned by a proper industrial strategy. The growing steel crisis has exposed that this Government clearly doesn’t have one.
This has consequences for our national security as well as our regional prosperity. Losing some of the best coke ovens and the largest blast furnace in our country risks undermining Britain’s influence if means we become overly-reliant on other countries for essential resources.
These are decisions of profound national importance and we shouldn’t wander into them without examining the long-term strategic implications for our country. The steel crisis should be reviewed by the National Security Council – but there is no evidence the matter has been considered.
Fourth, and above all, the Northern Powerhouse should be an instrument for delivering social justice as well as stronger economy.
Getting a good start in life depends more upon where you live in the North than anywhere else in England because of inequalities across the region. Less than half of the most deprived children in the North achieve a good level of development before their fifth birthday. We won’t succeed in spreading opportunity without tackling these inequalities.
That’s why devolution must help deliver a laser-like focus on skills, starting in the early years. We should also explore giving regions a greater say in education – because communities deserve just as much of a voice as the Department of Education in deciding which areas are most in need of new school places.
Our regions have a timeless spirit and limitless potential. If we can put real power in people’s hands, give our communities the support they need, and focus not on the past but what we can achieve together in the future, then our regions can not only succeed: we can be the best in the world. That’s how we’ll forge a more powerful Britain.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.
You can read the full speech here.