Powerhouse group means project is ‘here to stay’

Front L-R Sir Richard Leese , The Chancellor of the Exchequer , George Osborne MP and Lord Peter Smith
Front L-R Sir Richard Leese , The Chancellor of the Exchequer , George Osborne MP and Lord Peter Smith

A new think-tank to drive the Northern Powerhouse (NP) scheme forward has been given a cautious welcome by Wigan’s council leader.

Former chancellor George Osborne is to chair the NP Partnership, an independent group, including politicians and business leaders, launched this week.

Mr Osborne hopes the group’s formation will dispel fears his flagship policy has stalled under the new leadership of Theresa May.

Lord Smith, who was part of the initial devolution negotiations in 2014, has reiterated calls for the government to back the plans.

He told the Evening Post it is now up to Westminster to provide the cash required to drive change across the region.

The council leader said: “There has been some uncertainty about the attitude of Theresa May’s government towards the Northern Powerhouse which was very much George Osborne’s baby.

“If the government is serious about the idea of balancing the economy to help the North we don’t need major policy changes. I hope the government will reaffirm its commitment to Northern Powerhouse and give northern councils the financial support they need.”

Last month Leigh MP Andy Burnham, Labour’s candidate for GM mayor, warned Theresa May that pulling the plug on the “Northern Powerhouse” agenda would be, “as big a betrayal as the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher pulled the plug on our industries.” And former chancellor Mr Osborne has said Ms May had a “wobble” over the project but it was “here to stay”.

He announced that he has recruited the former mayor of New York, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, to advise the powerful new elected “metro” mayors being created in city regions including Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

Mr Osborne said: “When I launched the idea of NP I said I would work tirelessly with anyone and everyone to make it a reality. But even I have been taken aback by the huge support it’s attracted, across political parties, businesses and communities.

“In the space of just two years, we’ve created powerful new mayors, committed to huge new transport and science projects, and attracted investment from around the world. There’s a real excitement now in the north about what we can achieve if we work together. I don’t want us to lose that. That’s why I’m so pleased major businesses, civic leaders and others have worked with me to create this new NP Partnership.”