Opportunities for the North
By the Rt. Hon. Jake Berry MP, former Northern Powerhouse Minister
The latest budget announcement put the north of England in the spotlight and demonstrated the government’s intent to deliver on levelling up.
On 3 March, the Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak announced a raft of financial measures that pose significant opportunities for the North, including the levelling up of our towns, the relocation of key government departments to the North and the establishment of freeports. Now the North must harness these invaluable opportunities in order to capitalise on sector strengths and reap the economic benefits.
A £1 billion investment to The Towns Fund will see the renovation of Rochdale, Castleford and Whitby, among other towns across the UK. The investment is intended to “level up” these towns and support local leadership in delivering a post-pandemic recovery. Additionally, 10 local authorities across Yorkshire have been prioritised for the Community Renewal Fund, which will invest in people, communities and businesses.
Many northern towns have previously been “left behind” in pursuit of inner-city development. The towns and their residents suffer abandoned high streets, poor broadband and unacceptable infrastructure. The investments from The Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund will support the revival of northern communities that residents are proud to be part of and, as a result, regional towns will become more desirable for young families to settle down in. In turn, skills and private investment will be drawn to the region.
The relocation of key government departments The Treasury and the National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) to the North, will see the creation of over 750 new jobs and stimulate the local economy. In addition, establishing the NIB in Leeds shows confidence that the city can become a “Canary North”, building on its significant existing financial service industry. The NIB will be entrusted to deploy £12 billion worth of investment to support green-infrastructure projects. Government certainty in relocation will encourage the “north shoring” of private businesses and draw investment to the region.
The purpose of the NIB is to support green infrastructure projects across the country. The North is at the forefront of the green industrial revolution, and existing businesses make the region a global leader in offshore wind.
Investment in the green-energy sector will bolster this growing industry, pushing the North to the forefront of the race to net-zero. Climate change is top of the policy agenda on an international scale, thus innovative success in this sector will put both the North and the UK on a global platform, attract foreign investment and skills, and, in turn, strengthen the UK economy.
The North will benefit from the creation of freeports in the Liverpool city region and the Humber. The rules around these ports will make it cheaper and easier to do business, as well as provide tax relief and customs benefits. Furthermore, businesses already within these remits will enjoy a temporary five-year tax break. Freeports have the added benefits of increasing manufacturing, creating jobs and attracting investment, and they are beneficial in regenerating deprived areas. The result of increased manufacturing – a sector that has long been a significant contributor to the UK economy – is essential to the economic recovery post COVID-19.
The establishment of freeports makes the North an attractive trade partner, and the ports are well located to facilitate trade relationships with both the US and Europe. Imports will not be subject to tariffs unless they leave the freeport for an alternative UK destination. Therefore, freeports will act as innovation hubs, where foreign investors can import, manufacture and then export goods at a reduced cost. Together, this package of reform will mean the North will be one of the most attractive regions to invest, grow and start a business.
Ultimately, where there is investment, there is job creation and economic benefits. The government’s recent investment decisions present opportunities for the North to capitalise on our region’s prime capabilities that will boost the northern economy. Coupled with delivery of the levelling-up agenda, the North can become an attractive destination to live, work and play. In turn, the region can continue to draw investment and reap the benefits of a prosperous economy.