DevoIntelligence is DevoConnect's regular bulletin designed to keep you up to date and well informed about everything that's happening in England's devolution evolution. Check out our past issues here.

Great Northern Conference: where the North leads, the government must follow
By Jack Hutchison, DevoConnect
Yesterday saw the inaugural Great Northern Conference, bringing together civic leaders and business figures from across the North in a show of strength and regional re-commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. The conference came on the back of a stinging Yorkshire Post editorial published on the same day by former Chancellor George Osborne, in which he castigated the government for a ‘lack of vision.’ The former MP is leading an uncompromising call for the government to return to his Northern Powerhouse agenda, which was jettisoned after the post-Brexit resignations of July 2016.

There were two key takeaways from the conference: firstly, a real sense that senior figures in various Northern devolution, transport, and connectivity projects were frustrated – perhaps even tired of being frustrated - by lack of central government commitment to previous promises. Secondly, there is an urgent need to bring together Northern leaders on concrete proposals which can be presented with one voice. Whether that unity is intra- as well as inter-regional will soon be apparent, but it is increasingly clear that cross-sector collaboration is becoming the private sector strategy in a period of low political energy. Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry’s suggestion that ‘the government constantly needs challenging from the North of England’ may have bristled with some, who are tired of having suggestions for devolved policy (like the recent rejection of the One Yorkshire proposal) knocked back by Westminster.

Lord Jim O’Neill was particularly clear about the potential for devolution to cause political problems in Westminster. The future of devolution is ultimately ‘more important than Brexit,’ he said, with regional inequalities driving a sense of political dissatisfaction with Westminster politics. He was more circumspect about Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake’s call for a select committee to hold the Government to account on its Northern Powerhouse promises. Change happens at cabinet level or it doesn’t happen, he suggested. He was also clear, however, that the Government’s rejection of the One Yorkshire deal was the correct decision, instead suggesting that four urban-based devolution deals for Yorkshire should be resurrected.

The frustration that the Northern Powerhouse and devolution agenda is being crowded out by Brexit is palpable wherever you go in the North, but especially so since many are convinced that the vote to leave the EU was a symptom of much deeper problems with the democratic process. Giving the North its own powers to raise transport funding – a key recommendation in the Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s report – was emphasised by all panellists as a means to an end, including improving outcomes in health, education, and productivity. Whether devolution’s advocates can convince the Government that it is an answer to wider constitutional crises remains to be seen, but expect to see more talk after 29 March (or whenever the leave date is) about devolution’s ability to address deep national division.

In conclusion, we wait to see whether the proposals put forward by various organisations, not just the Northern Powerhouse Partnership but crucially Transport for the North – including its £39bn proposal for transport funding – will be met. It is most likely that there are some tough decisions ahead on Northern infrastructure priorities, though whether the inclusivity of growth – as raised by Jake Berry – can be ensured despite expected cuts to proposed budgets is less certain. Nevertheless, there is certainly a huge sense of urgency from across the North for the government to recommit to the Northern Powerhouse.

New Statesman Northern Powerhouse Conference: what could the Northern Powerhouse 2.0 look like?
By Steve Barwick, Director, DevoConnect
Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, speaking at the New Statesman conference today, said the Government’s reboot of George Osborne’s flagship policy is underway. His speech suggested some of the elements of what should be in what he called NorthernPowerhouse Plan 2.0. – although, as Lord Prescott later pointed out, there was the Northern Way initiative in the noughties so really this should be seen as 3.0. The conference suggested three key elements will be required.

First, Berry hinted it will be far less ‘city centric’ acknowledging that the Northern power-towns and small cities agenda has finally arrived.  He promised no east-west division in the next NorthernPowerhouse nor an urban-rural divide. That agenda has taken a long time to appear when you reflect on the commentary about ‘left behind’ places immediately after the Brexit referendum. It was even emphasised by Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and Chair of Core Cities, who pointed out the need for Bradford, a city of more than 500,000 people, to have far better transport links. She went onto say that growth in future must be seen to benefit ALL areas.

Second, there will be the need for the devolution revolution’ to complete the devolution jigsaw. Prescott was clear that in his view devolution currently stops at the Pennines and is a North West and/or Manchester dominated agenda. He made an impassioned plea for Yorkshire to figure far more in plans both regards transport for freight – from Liverpool to Hull in a new global era where China is the world’s main exporter -  – and seizing the potential of the Humber energy estuary to contribute to the clean green growth agenda in light of the new industrial strategy.

Berry said if Yorkshire devolution is completed – by which of course he did not mean to endorse One Yorkshire but a Mayor for everywhere outside South Yorkshire -  then 75% of the north’s population would have a Mayor. Prescott went further and said the north needs to have a strong voice – presumably something that would happen when/if the jigsaw is 100% complete and there are eight or so Mayors who could then speak with one voice. Blake called as an interim measure for a Select Committee for the North, which may be popular in Parliament.
Lord O'Neill: devolution is more important than Brexit
An ex-Treasury minister and pioneer of the Northern Powerhouse concept has told a conference that devolution is a more important issue than Brexit. Economist Lord Jim O’Neill told the Great Northern Conference that devolution could be the issue that overcomes "traditional party tribalism." Lord O’Neill, who is a vice-chair of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership, went on to say that the government’s decision to reject the One Yorkshire proposal on the basis of economics was a correct one, and instead argued for four separate ‘urban-based deals’ in the county.
Brexit set to lessen North/South divide
A report has found that Britain’s exit from the European Union has already begun to slow growth in London, in turn reducing the economic divide between the North and South of England. Accountancy firm EY found that this reduction in growth could narrow the North/South divide over the next three years. The report also found that areas like the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber would perform more strongly post-Brexit, due to their status as manufacturing bases. Still, EY’s chief economist Mark Gregory said regional imbalances would not be completely eliminated by Brexit.
Government rejects One Yorkshire devolution proposal
A devolution deal proposal for the entire county of Yorkshire has been rejected by the central government. One Yorkshire was backed by 18 of the region’s 20 councils; Sheffield and Rotherham instead chose to back the current Sheffield City Region deal. James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for communities, said the plan failed to "meet our devolution criteria," and said he was aware of "local appetite for other devolution elsewhere" within Yorkshire. John Grogan, the Labour MP for Keighley, said the decision was a "massive snub."
Think tank report says London 'must show it cares' about regions
A think-tank has suggested that the Mayor of London launch a domestic campaign to win over those from outside London. The report, London, UK: Strengthening the Ties Between Capital and Country, found that there is a general perception that the government makes ‘London-centric’ decisions, and many think that the capital receives more than its fair share of public spending. London has a reputation issue amongst non-Londoner Britons, many of whom think its economic strength does not contribute to their local economy at all. The report’s recommendations include a formalised UK Alliance of Mayors, establishing regional embassies in London and creating cultural exchanges between London and the regions.
Northern Powerhouse minister: towns and rural areas can't be left behind in devolution
The minister for the Northern Powerhouse has warned that devolution plans risk leaving non-urban areas behind and told leaders to keep challenging his government on their plans for the North. Jake Berry, who is also the MP for Rossendale and Darwen, spoke at the Great Northern Conference in Leeds. Berry said putting too much focus on cities in the North risked creating a second ‘North-South divide’ between urban and non-urban areas. After his government’s recent rejection of the One Yorkshire devolution proposal, Berry urged Yorkshire leaders to "rise to the challenge" of negotiating a new deal with the central government.
Northern Rail says delays will continue until May 2019
Northern Rail has warned passengers in the North of England that its services are unlikely to improve until May next year, despite a 3.2% price hike from January onwards. Even after the ‘summer of chaos,’ performance remains poor, with just 40% of trains arriving on time from 10th October – 10th November this year. At a Transport for Greater Manchester meeting, a Northern stakeholder manager explained that the poor service was due to a "horrendous" shortage of diesel trains, in turn caused by Network Rail’s overrunning electrification works.
Labour selects North of Tyne candidate
The Labour Party has selected its candidate for the North of Tyne mayoral election in May. Cllr Jamie Driscoll, who has been endorsed by Momentum and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, beat Cllr Nick Forbes, who has lead Newcastle City Council for eight years, by 2,514 party member’s votes to 1,930. Speaking after his victory, Driscoll said the North East is being "bled dry by Westminster," before reiterating campaign pledges including a People’s Bank, declaring a "climate emergency" and favouring local suppliers over corporate contracts. John Appleby is the Liberal Democrat candidate; the Conservatives have yet to announce one.
Greater Manchester health devolution faces NHS intervention
Greater Manchester’s pioneering health devolution agreement is now under fire for consistent underperformance. In 2015, the city-region’s Combined Authority agreed a deal with the central government and NHS England to supposedly improve the quality and delivery of services in Greater Manchester. This included a unique £450m transformation fund for the region. However, the Combined Authority now faces government intervention over poor performance. After failing to meet the four-hour A&E standard less than 85% of the time for three months straight, a formal NHS intervention has been triggered in Greater Manchester.
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