Regions need bigger voice

Bridging the gap: The North of England needs greater powers regardless of the Scottish Independence vote. Pictured below Linda Riordan MP
Bridging the gap: The North of England needs greater powers regardless of the Scottish Independence vote. Pictured below Linda Riordan MP
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Millions of Scots will go to the polls today for the historic independence referendum. But will the outcome have an impact for other regions wanting more devolved powers, including the north of England? One campaigner, MP Linda Riordan, gives us her views.

It’s time for the North to have greater control over its destiny and for this important region to be set free from the constraints of Whitehall so it has the chance to realise its economic and social potential.

Same opportunity: Linda Riordan MP

Same opportunity: Linda Riordan MP

From Newcastle to Sheffield, Hull to Liverpool and points in between, the North is a vast entity with the potential to grow, develop and prosper.

I was heartened to read Ed Miliband talk of a future Labour government providing an “English deal”, giving this region some form of devolved power. What form that would take is unclear.

What is clear though is that real devolution must be on the same basis as the devolution enjoyed by Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That means a major shift from the sort of centralised control the North has suffered from.

It seems like an age since the voters of the North East said no thanks in 2004 when a rather timid version of regional government was put to them.

However, a decade on and much has changed. The whole political and economic landscape has been transformed. And not always for the better. Since that time, the social and economic fortunes of the North have ebbed and flowed. The recession hit these parts as hard as any. And while the capital and the South East may begin to see the fruits of any economic recovery, it is unlikely to be noticed in these parts anytime soon.

Politically, we face the increasing prospect of being caught between the dominant South and the increasingly confident and muscle-flexing Scotland. Quite simply, something has to give. If Northern areas, with such a rich cultural, socially and economic history, are to flourish then it’s time for Whitehall to loosen its grip on the levers of power. Not with tinkering, tokenism or sops but with strong, powerful and effective regional government. The 2004 model was a half-hearted and half-baked proposal doomed from the start. Now is the time to point the way to a better future for our Northern regions.

In the past week, more detail emerged of how the North lags behind the South economically, socially and culturally. If Wales, with an economy smaller than Leeds or Manchester, can have devolution, tax-raising powers and control of its own affairs, why can’t the North?

This country remains the most centralised country in the developed world. It is a model based on the politics of yesterday, not of the future. A stronger North is good for our region, good for the country and good for our communities which need more jobs, more prospects and better transport.

It is increasingly clear that as the gap between London and the regions grows ever larger, the pull of young people to the capital becomes ever stronger. The tide has to turn or the talent pool will increasingly belong solely in London and the South East. That cannot be healthy. So what needs to happen?

Whatever the outcome of the vote in Scotland, the status quo is not an option. Over the past two and a half years, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, (which recently gave a talk in Preston), has been articulating the need for regional government. Its vision has seen people from across the North get on board.

Ten years on and the mood of the North is increasingly one of support. Soon the Hannah Mitchell Foundation will be stepping up its campaign under a new “Northern Future” banner. A launch night will be taking place in Yorkshire shortly.

The underwhelming 2004 campaign has been substituted for an overwhelming level of support for regional government in 2014. This is not about creating new powers. It is about transferring them from London. It is about creating jobs for the people of the North, not about creating jobs for the boys. It is about bridging the gap between Scotland and London, not pushing it further away.

The North needs a voice, a new radical approach to how we conduct our politics in the region. For us to tap into the rich potential in our region, we need to money, power and control to flow from London. The nations of our island have been given a greater say in its affairs. It’s time the regions were handed the same opportunity. A decade from now I hope we can look back, like the people of Scotland and Wales do, and say how successful the transfer of powers has been. The day will come, but for the sake of the Northern regions that day needs to be sooner rather than later.

l Linda Riordan is the Labour MP for Halifax.

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