IT is two months since people across the North of England, including in my Barnsley constituency, made a bold and clear decision to leave the European Union.
All three northern regions, including Yorkshire, voted Leave and just 11 out of 72 areas across the North voted Remain. The will of the people is clear and, while I campaigned to remain in the EU, it is now the duty of politicians to implement that decision.
We must also recognise that for many people, especially those living in post-industrial working class towns across the North, the vote became a referendum on their lives. They were undoubtedly angry about a lack of good jobs, a dearth of opportunities and felt ignored by the political establishment. They heard talk about the benefits of globalisation but didn’t feel them in their own lives. They felt left behind.
In this sense, the referendum was a culmination of a storm that began brewing over 30 years ago when the industries of the North were allowed to decline, without any real thought of what would replace them. It is a tragedy that this decline and disenchantment has been allowed to take place. While many have spoken about this in recent years, it is now our collective duty to act to reverse this situation.
This isn’t going to be easy. There will be economic challenges as a result of Brexit and the economy of the North is particularly vulnerable. That’s why we need a bold plan for the North.
The first step is decisive action. I am not convinced by the proposals which have been mooted by the Conservatives like slashing UK’s corporation tax rate, which is already at the lowest rate in the G20. The main concern of companies I have spoken to is whether they will make a profit at all, not how much tax they’ll pay on any profit.
Instead the Government should be boosting infrastructure investment in the North. Currently £1,869 per person is being spent on transport infrastructure in London. In Yorkshire that is just £247 per person and across the North as a whole it is only £277 per person.
To boost the economy, there should be an immediate increase in transport investment across the North. This should include expediting High Speed 3 – a new trans-Pennine high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds which would cut journey times between the two cities to 30 minutes.
The North has also become an incubator for pioneering research and development. A great deal of R&D funding, in particular funding associated with our universities, is linked to the EU. It is worrying that the Government has only pledged to guarantee funding for projects signed before the upcoming Autumn Statement – this creates significant uncertainty around the future of projects agreed in the coming years before we leave the European Union.
Ensuring funding alone won’t be enough. The Government must go further by announcing a Northern Innovation and Research Fund to put the North at the heart of research and development in our country.
The North also faces more long-term challenges. Northern schools lag behind those in London in terms of performance. Yet that is sadly predictable when you learn that schools in the North receive significantly less money per pupil. For example, Northern secondary schools receive £1,300 less per pupil than London secondary schools. This must change. The school funding model must be reformed so that schools in the North receive their fair share of funding.
As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, there are many areas in the North where people lack the skills for the jobs on offer. Areas like Leeds where there are many high-skill jobs on offer but fewer skilled people than needed to fill them. A concerted effort to improve skills would both help to reduce poverty in our region but would also boost our economy.
We must also make sure investing in the North does not just become investing in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool. Research has shown that three in five English towns are falling behind their neighbouring city.
It is crucial we also invest in our great northern towns – places like Huddersfield, Oldham, Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Barnsley. We all have a big job to do to get this right – but the Government must show leadership on this issue at this crucial time for our country. People across the North have demanded change and it must now be delivered.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central