By Janine Docherty
The Northern Powerhouse was George Osborne’s promise to re-balance the north south divide in the economy. Can the party that proposed “managed decline” for Liverpool in the 1980s really deliver the Northern Powerhouse?
While the uncertainties over Brexit negotiations continue, a number of companies with major operations across the north have issued warnings for the future. These include Nissan with a major manufacturing plant in Sunderland and Jaguar Land Rover with a factory in Halewood near Liverpool. Both support significant supply chains across their respective regions. The Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group – we do have banks in the north – are cutting more jobs following the referendum result. The Page Group issued warnings on lower recruitment levels which may mean they need to cut staff. They have a number of offices across the UK, including the northern cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. All of these companies have identified Brexit as a cause for possible job losses in their companies. Remainers and Leavers may have differing opinions on whether Brexit is the cause but each of these big employers has given indications of significant jobs losses.
There are concerns over European Funding, with the government only guaranteeing specific projects signed before the autumn statement and a small number of other funding streams being reviewed. Any unassigned funds may be kept by the Treasury. The funding programme between 2014 and 2020 has £6.9 billion allocated to England, with £2.8 billion notionally allocated to northern Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
Many people voted to leave the European Union because of frustration at the decline and lack of investment in their areas. This followed the introduction of the austerity policy and the cutting of public services relied upon by so many, with the north being disproportionately affects.. While public services were coming under increased pressure, the Tories allowed the myth perpetuated by UKIP that migrants are to blame when the real cause is cuts to public spending.
The Tories do not seem to understand that for the Northern Powerhouse, for our people to be productive, they need to feel that their families and communities needs are addressed and cared for. Despite this key principle being common sense and proven through research, the Tories have begun dismantling the NHS, the welfare state and education provision.
As a top 10 world economy, we should have an education and learning system to match. One which supports the development of leadership and team work through giving young people responsibility. One which encourages people to get the best qualifications they can, without prohibitive levels of debt. One which incorporates activities outside of the classroom, such as sports and work in the community.
A thriving co-operative sector could provide a valuable complement to a fantastic education: Experience. Young people especially, are turned down for jobs as they “do not have experience”. Co-operatives working in communities across the north can give people a wide range of experience. For budding bankers and accountants, working in community banks. For budding marketers, working on promotional campaigns. For budding chief executives, directors and entrepreneurs, working as part of a co-operative’s leadership team. Some of this could be voluntary, but work should pay.
Experience gained in co-operatives could have a number of benefits. Referrals from networks created through working in co-operatives could assist people in finding work. They could also assist businesses in finding employees who already have relevant experience and work ready skills.
Those who wish to start their own businesses would benefit from experiencing in co-operatives what it takes to keep an organisation running and the wide range of responsibilities involved. It may not guarantee success, but they may make fewer mistakes, create jobs and hopefully learn that co-operation can bring greater reward than competing.
The increase in Labour Party membership provides a fantastic opportunity for the co-operative sector. Labour Party members can spread the word on the importance of being involved in co-operatives in their local communities and the range of needs they could address. With so much variety and ways to get involved, there are opportunities for everyone.
Our communities have many needs and four years is a long time to wait for a Labour Government. There are things that can be done now. If we in the Labour Co-operative movement took the Northern Powerhouse idea and applied our principles we could create many more opportunities.
Our people have always been our powerhouse.