North has what it takes to emerge stronger from crisis – Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps

The North is firmly poised to recover from the coronavirus crisis with the right infrastructure and funding available, says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

And he pledged more funding for region-wide organisation Transport for the North after fears its budget faced cutbacks.

Opening today’s Invest North event in a keynote presentation, the Secretary of State for Transport and Minister for Northern Powerhouse said the Northern Powerhouse initiative stands at a pivotal point, seven years after its launch, due to events such as Brexit, a binding pledge to decarbonise our economy and COVID.

But he said: “They also create new openings, new opportunities, which I believe the North is better placed to grasp today than at any time for generations.”

The Government’s plan for growth, published alongside the recent Budget, means no other region has more potential for growth than the North, he said.

“That’s why we’re putting such emphasis on levelling up and boosting investment on transferring powers to local leaders and binding the North together by overhauling infrastructure.”

He said devolution across the region will help in this regard: “With the new West Yorkshire combined authority, 60% of the North will be represented by Metro Mayors fighting on behalf of their areas. And that’s far more than any other region.

“But the latest commitments in the Budget will take devolution right up to the next level.

“Locating Treasury North in Darlington is a real sign of intent, staffed by 750 of the most senior civil servants. This isn’t just another office. It’s a substantial chunk of the largest government department moving out of the capital, putting northern people and businesses at the heart of the way this country is run.”

He added: “We also announced that the new UK Infrastructure Bank will be based in Leeds – further evidence that the UK economic centre of gravity is shifting north.

“And the UK Infrastructure Bank will replace some of the functions of the European Investment Bank, offering more targeted support to customers better aligned with the North’s needs and objectives,” he said.

“And then we’re also opening a Northern hub for my department, the DFT, in Leeds. And all of that is part of our drive to move 22,000 civil service jobs out of London.

“The new office will give us fresh perspectives, but perspective on how government can better deal and deliver transport improvements.”

He also pointed to another announcement in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent Budget aimed at helping to reinvigorate the region: “With three new Freeports in Humber, Liverpool, and Teesside, they’ll become catalysts for economic growth thanks to favourable rules, making it easier and cheaper to do business as well as simplified customs processes.”

Free ports will offer tax measures to incentivise businesses and investment planning to encourage construction.

Mr Shapps said among the reasons the three northern locations were chosen was their ability to regenerate the private parts of the country. The Freeport infrastructure will also be built to support the next generation of offshore wind projects in Teesside, he said.

The Government has also backed its support for the region with cash, he said: “Almost half the towns that will benefit from the initial £3.6bn Towns Fund are in the North. Further announcements in the Budget included over £1bn for 45 more towns – again, almost half of them in the North.

“Three quarters of the £400m Brownfield Fund has been allocated to authorities, you guessed it, in the North, and this will help unlock 20,000 homes.”

He then turned to the role of transport in rebuilding the region, saying: “To rebuild the jobs that are being lost during the pandemic there’s a real imperative to get on with modernising the Northern transport system.”

He said Royal Assent last month for HS2 in the West Midlands means high speed rail in the North of England was enshrined in law for the very first time, and it will be built six years faster than originally planned.

And he highlighted the Government’s support for Northern Powerhouse Rail, supported by £75m of further funding this year, before saying: “Let me just address Transport for the North.

“I keep reading funding has been cut, but due to underspend this financial year, TfN has significant money in its reserves, and the most recent settlement will give them access to over £67m next financial year – by the way, that’s up from £59m this year.

“So, when you consider that £29bn has been invested in the North since 2010, our commitment to the region has never been stronger, and I really think cannot be doubted.”

Invest North is a one-day virtual conference bringing together more than 500 people including business and policy leaders to set the agenda for what comes next in the North.

The event has been curated by and backed by a broad coalition of organisations spanning the public and private sectors, led by EY, Squire Patton Boggs, Influential, and Impact Data Metrics.

Find out more here