Council of the North is coming, says Burnham

ANDY Burnham, the Leigh MP who will stand as Labour’s mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, has said he is involved in the creation of a Council of the North that will redress the imbalance of power in England.

The shadow home secretary said such a council is needed after “centuries of the Westminster system have given us an unequal country”.

“Westminster has failed the North of England,” he said before adding that spending decisions announced in Chancellor Hammond’s autumn statement in November will be a critical indicator of whether the Northern Powerhouse concept is anything more than rhetoric.

“There is no Northern Powerhouse without substantial investment in infrastructure,” he said.

Burnham added that he is working with other leaders and candidates across the north ahead of the autumn statement on common causes such as transport to make a submission on behalf of the North of England.

“There is a Council of the North which is emerging now, with the different changes that are taking place,” he said. “If a mayor comes through in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and eventually the North East, and if we do form what you might call a Council of the North, it will be a brave government that completely ignores what that group of people is saying.”

The term was first used in the 15th century for an administrative body set up by Yorkist monarch Edward IV to improve government control and economic prosperity in the North of England.

It was resurrected by think tank ResPublica – credited with setting the devolution agenda adopted by George Osborne – at its July conference in Manchester. Its Manifesto for Finding True North said that a Council of the North would bring together leaders from the cities and regions to counter London-centric policy making.

Burnham’s comments also echo those made by Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram who, after being selected as Labour’s candidate for Liverpool City Region’s first metro mayor elections, said he wants to work with Burnham to push for greater support across the region.

“With Andy Burnham as the metro mayor of Manchester and me as the metro mayor of the Liverpool city region, it is our intention to create a North West powerhouse,” he said.

Burnham also declared that after 15 years as MP for Leigh he has “had it with Westminster” but he refused to be drawn on whether he would quit as an MP if he failed in his bid to be metro mayor.

“Not necessarily… I’m frustrated with Westminster, that’s why I’m ready to leave. I don’t know what I would do, is the honest answer. I have been there for 15 years. I have become frustrated with its failure to listen. It wasn’t just Hillsborough, although that was part of it…”

Speaking to an invited audience of around 40 business leaders at the dinner held by Duff & Phelps on Thursday night, Burnham also set out his vision for Greater Manchester and what he would want to achieve during his three-year tenure as mayor, should he be elected.

Burnham said he wanted to show how Greater Manchester would differentiate itself post-Brexit and ensure global firms would want to be based in the city region – with a firm focus on youth skills and making Manchester an industrial capital, again.

“We should go back to the vision of Manchester as part of a wider North West and back to being a capital of industry, research and advanced manufacturing. London is rightly the capital of services and we should once again be the capital of industry,” he said.

“I believe the answer has got to be around people, skills and particularly investing in our young people. Developing here the most highly skilled workforce in the country. That is about putting young people absolutely at the heart of what we are trying to do.”

He said that there should be three routes for young people after school: university, apprenticeships and entrepreneurship and suggested a UCAS style system for apprenticeships across Greater Manchester.

“I want the 14-year-old in Denton to go online to see all the apprenticeships available across Greater Manchester… Then I want to help them with their travel costs so they can take advantage of those opportunities.

“We have got to lift our sights collectively and invest in our young people and create a system that matches our businesses with the motivated individuals who want to work in them.”

He concluded: “I can’t do everything in three years but I want to unlock a sense of excitement about the city. I want it to feel bottom up, not politics in the old way.”

Paul Smith, managing Director at Duff & Phelps in Mancehster, which hosted the event, said: “It is crucial that [the local economy] continues to receive the investment into infrastructure, education and access to finance to secure the long term economic growth that Greater Manchester is capable of achieving.”