Northern transport bosses granted new powers

North transport bosses have been granted new powers to set the long-term priorities needed to get the North moving. 

On April 1st, Transport for the North (TfN) became England's first sub-national transport body. 

That means the North, through TfN, has a louder voice in bidding for cash and setting priorities. 

TfN now has the power to:

·         Develop and implement a Strategic Transport Plan

·         Act as ‘one voice’ for the North, relaying priorities to the Secretary of State

·         Coordinate and deliver smart ticketing systems across the North

·         Become a statutory partner in road and rail investment decisions

·         Oversee (jointly with DfT) franchised rail services covering Northern and TransPennine Express franchises through the Rail North Partnership team

·         Construct new roads, with the agreement of Government and relevant highway and local authorities

·         Decide on the allocation of capital grants

The new powers are being backed up by hard cash. 

Speaking at the first Transport for the North (TfN) Partnership Board in Liverpool, Rail Minister Jo Johnson said: 

“Between 2015 and 2020 the government will have spent over £13bn – more than any other in history – to transform northern transport, boosting economic growth and unlocking the incredible potential of the great towns and cities of the north. 

“Establishing Transport for the North is a crucial next step in giving the north greater influence than ever over transport investment. It is imperative that the north now speaks with a strong, unified voice to identify where we can work together to transform journeys for people."

The North now has more influence than ever over transport investment and money is being made available.  

The key now is to make sure we in the North use this new status to prioritise transport projects that will bring genuine economic improvements. 

Very few businesses believe moderately shorter journeys times between Humberside and Manchester or Newcastle and Leeds can catalyse serious growth in the North without an international vision. 

Brexit brings with it unlimited trading opportunities for the North. TfN must embrace this in its strategic plan and use its powers to create a Global North by integrating local transport alongside much better links with international transport hubs. 

Fintech - global potential for the North?

Recent developments in financial technology (fintech) could super-charge an already-buoyant sector and significantly boost the North East economy.  

The government this month announced its new fintech sector strategy – aimed at enabling the industry to flourish in the UK and cementing Britain’s position as a global fintech authority.  

The plan’s initial focus includes a new crypto assets task force, the next steps in ‘robo-regulation’ and a new UK-Australia partnership. Other measures include helping small firms to grow and reach new customers, new fintech regional envoys to ensure the benefits of fintech spread far beyond London and a set of industry standards to make collaboration easier. 

The strategy is a clear recognition of fintech’s vast potential,and the value of leading its international development.

The UK’s global standing in financial services is unquestionable. It can now build a similarly strong position in a related sector which has an incredibly bright future following rapid growth in recent years. 

The North East of England, still disproportionately reliant on public sector jobs, has much to gain.

A burgeoning fintech cluster is already taking shape in the region, populated by both start-ups and major employers, including True Potential in Newcastle, named European Business of the Year in 2017. 

It is somewhat fragmented, however, with lots of firms working on their own distinct part of the fintech market. The type of global fintech opportunities the government is courting, would help this cluster mature and develop a collective pull for more inward investment. 

Plans to forge a bridge between the fintech sectors in Newcastle and the Gulf market are already well underway, through various activities led by Policy North. New links to a lucrative region where fintech is underdeveloped but blossoming will directly boost the North East’s digital economy in the coming years. But fintech is almost universally growing in territories across the globe and there are many more patches of fertile ground to target. 

The new UK-Australia Fin Tech Bridge is a good start, and hopefully stronger bonds with other fintech markets will develop post-Brexit.

Just as in Britain, Australia’s consumers are clamouring for ever-more convenient and efficient ways of handling their finances. Organisations serving its 24 million population, meanwhile, continue to strive for tighter cyber security controls and new and innovative ways of ultilising data. 

The new fintech bridge will enable British firms to export their fintech products and services Down Under and bring together regulators, policymakers and the private sector from the two nations.

The government believes this will nurture a “fintech ecosystem” that supports the growth of both fintech markets.   

This is a prime example of the type of overseas agreement that could shape Britain’s success after Brexit. The new Global Britain will depend not only on the world’s appetite to buy our goods and services and do business here.

Eagerness around the world to tap into our knowledge and expertise in key sectors will also dictate our economic future. The UK has led the way in driving the advancement of fintech, and digital industries generally, in recent years; Yet we are still to foster a true home-grown giant on the scale of Amazon or Google. The sector strategy approach - combining our cutting-edge products and services, and openness to do business and share expertise – could change this, especially once we have the ability to fine tune our own trade deals.  

Other forms of support are now needed to bolster this broad fintech plan. Enhancing research and development allowances for fintech projects would be an obvious step forward. So too would a renewed push from the UK’s official innovation agency, Innovate UK, in promoting pioneering, UK-based research which has potential implications for fintech.

Such measures would act as catalyst for growth in this hugely exciting sector, and could bring much-needed opportunities to the North East.  

Stephen Purvis is chairman of the think-tank Policy North, which represents the interests of firms in the North of England.

Leaving the Customs Union is a fundamental element of Brexit

By David Harrison, Policy North president

The North of England is home to 15 million people and over a million private sector businesses.

If it was a country, it would be one of the largest economies in Europe; similar in size to Belgium.

Its economy is worth over £300bn and makes up 19 per cent of total UK output, but it has the potential to be so much more after Brexit, as long as we leave the Customs Union.

If we do not, there is no point in leaving the EU. In fact, we might as well just stay in, if they would let us. 

For being “out” of the EU but having to abide by its tariffs and being unable to strike new trade deals with the rest of the world defies logic.

With 90 per cent of global growth over the next 10-15 years set to be from non-EU countries, it makes no sense to lock ourselves out of these lucrative markets.

Doing so would deny the North of England this unique opportunity of becoming the globally trading powerhouse it once was. This in turn would stop Brexit from benefitting every UK region and not just the over-heated South East. 

Across the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber, just 11 of 125 areas voted Remain.Most of those that did were in metropolitan city centre areas, with high student populations. While Manchester may be enjoying an ongoing resurgence, many parts of the Greater North are struggling.

Decades of EU membership correspond with an ever-widening gap between the North and London and the South East in terms of wages, skills and growth.

Gross Value Added per head of 100 is 74 in the North East, 80.7 in Yorkshire and the Humber and 85.4 in the North West. This compares to 109.8 in the South East and 172.1 in London.

Brexit voters of Hartlepool, Doncaster, Carlisle, Blackpool and Rochdale were not just voting to leave, but for change; a change that, under Labour’s deceptive take on Brexit, would not be possible.

I would urge caution from Jeremy Corbyn or any other politicians seeking to dilute or derail Brexit. The referendum was many people’s only chance to have a truly democratic vote. For some politicians to then treat the result with such disdain highlights problems with the political class that led many to vote for Brexit in the first place.

Let’s be frank, politicians aren’t exactly top of the popularity league. The London-centric, patronising view many remoaning MPs are now showing, risks further alienation and distance from the electorate. Certainly the disconnect between the North and Westminster feels wider than ever. 

Donald Trump’s remarkable rise is a prime example of the public’s fatigue with self-preserving, career politicians who hide behind a polished, politically correct façade.

America’s choice of president was a vote for a non-politician. His supporters saw him as a trusted businessman who had lost as well as won in business. He is the antithesis of what’s gone before in recent years at the White House.  

In our own historic vote, people knew what they were voting for, even without the exact details.

I was surprised by the outright hostility shown to us by our “partners” after our decision, however.

The behaviour of the EU heavies is all the more scandalous given that they are not representative of citizens of other EU countries – many of which are also in the throes of political apathy. Many people on the Continent are, like us, sick and tired of being ignored. 

At Policy North, our aim is to formulate ideas about free trade in the North of England and anywhere in the world that will trade with us. Right now, the North is being hampered by not being able to broker free trade deals, with anyone at all. 

Unlike Britain, the US does trade deals wherever it can. It also has more free trade zones than any other country in the world. These are also not possible in the EU as it seeks to protect against cheaper, non-EU goods. That protection means its citizens pay more for goods than they need to.  

The business case for a Great North Free Port, that could turn future free trade agreements into jobs and economic growth, is compelling and achievable.

Trade is the key to a northern renaissance and the rebalancing of the economy. Merely exporting public sector jobs to the North is neither sustainable nor imaginative. In reality, it acts as a restraint on regional enterprise and innovation. It also does little to arrest the deprivation and lack of opportunities that still remain in some areas as a legacy of industrial decline.

The fact that the EU trading block we are currently tied into has grown at a slower pace than any other section of the world for a generation or more hasn’t made things any easier for the North. Yet despite being hampered by rules that suit other countries but not necessarily our own needs, the UK overall has managed to maintain its position as the 5th largest trading country in the world. We could have achieved so much more – North and South - if free to do our own deals. 

Cross-border trade between business people is built on trust – trust then grows with every deal and friendship might even develop. Business people divided by nations often have lots in common with each other. It is only the respective politicians and miscellaneous bureaucrats that supposedly represent their interests which accentuate differences.

Entrepreneurs don’t want wars or physical domination of territories; or taxes on imported goods. Nor are we interested in the myriad of rules imposed on citizens by those who supposedly know what’s best for us – often who have slowly been put in positions where they take no risks but get large rewards.

We simply want to sell our goods to someone else at a profit, and thus employ people and grow. So, wherever possible, we should miss out the bureaucrats, on either side of deals, and avoid tribalism.

The way the EU is acting towards us is not a big enough reason on its own to leave the club. But it is an obvious indicator of an underlying problem. The mandarins are losing power and are trying their very best to cling onto it.

We should leave the EU primarily because we have lots in common with many other trading nations, as well as the great countries inside Europe, all of which export more to us, than we to them. In fact, we export only around 18 per cent of GDP to the EU.

This means leaving the Customs Union – a fundamental element of Brexit.

There is no going back on the will of the UK population. The sooner the politicians here and in Brussels wake up to that reality, the better for all of us.

David Harrison is president of Policy North with over 40 years’ experience in business.

Our Budget take:

Yesterday’s Budget was billed as make or break for Philip Hammond. The early signs are that he did well, but how did the North do? 

Here the Policy North team breaks down the Budget:


Peter Bould, director of communications

The Chancellor went into yesterday's Budget with very little room for manoeuvre.

Stuck between a fiscal commitment to abolish the deficit by 2025 on one side and falling productivity plus slower GDP on the other, there was not much cash to splash. But the Government needed to seize back the agenda and show it has the plan to go with the vision to create a country that works for everyone. 

On that aim, we think Philip Hammond just about managed. There were some eye-catching announcements including £500m for tech, £540m for electric cars and £2.3bn for R&D plus abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers on properties worth up to £300,000. 

After the disastrous election result in the North earlier this year, it was also crucial that Philip Hammond set out a vision for the North backed by hard cash.  

Despite having very little wriggle room, the Chancellor played a decent hand and even managed to crack a few jokes. 

Callum Crozier, policy director

A North Tyne devolution deal will deliver £600 million  of extra funding. The local authority will have full autonomy on how this money is spent, bringing both money and more powers to local people in the North. The Chancellor also announced £337 million of investment to overhaul the Tyne & Wear Metro system, replacing the 40-year-old trains with a brand new fleet. I also welcome the fantastic news that the Chancellor fully supports Newcastle becoming a Tech Hub, supporting businesses and skills in the area which will helps local communities, businesses and people prosper. The region will receive a share of £21 million investment to support the Tech City initiative. 

It is clear that our Chancellor and this Government have vision for a globally competitive North which will thrive with the opportunities that Brexit presents us. The North was the pioneer of the industrial revolution, and I have confidence, with investment such as this, we will pioneer the 4th Industrial Revolution in digital innovation.

David Harrison, president of Policy North

We have made the case in Whitehall for extra money to invest in the North’s rural economies so I was pleased to hear Philip Hammond confirm a commitment to do just that. This is excellent news. 

It will help to deliver much needed improvements to local infrastructure and enable Borderlands businesses to scale up their operations and create more jobs.

Stephen Purvis, Policy North chairman

Connectivity is a key driver of a more productive workforce so we welcome the £337m investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro. The money comes on the back of new legal powers given to the North to set our own transport priorities. 

This, along with the commitment of a North of Tyne devolution deal, is great news for the region.

The doubling of the Enterprise Investment Allowance to £2m for knowledge companies is a cleverly structured and welcome announcement.  This policy shift will encourage larger quantum investments in scale-up rather than startup businesses, whilst also keeping the momentum of private capital investment into high margin knowledge, technology and intellectual property rich businesses.


Cabinet needs more northern voices

Policy North Communications Director, and former Conservative Press Officer Peter Bould writes...

There is widespread speculation that Theresa May is set to reshuffle her Cabinet in a bid to stamp her authority on the Government and create consensus in Whitehall as crucial Brexit talks intensify.

While much of the focus has fallen on the fate of Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the PM’s overhaul could, and should, stretch much further. With clear differences over the Government’s strategy in relation to Brexit and ministers appearing to speak from multiple hymn sheets, Theresa May needs to exert her authority. She also needs to freshen up the face of the Conservative Party to win hearts and minds, just as David Cameron had to a decade ago.

History shows that divided governments don’t last long and voters punish them at the ballot box. Aside from briefings and manoeuvres, there is another striking dimension to the current Cabinet.

The North has incredibly poor representation at the highest level of government. In fact, you’d have to go back more than 20 years for a time when fewer secretaries of state held north constituencies.

Of the current 28 Cabinet attendees, only Brexit Secretary David Davis holds a northern constituency - Haltemprice and Howden in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Having confirmed that northern economic rebalancing remains one of her core missions, it’s time for the PM to correct the chronic shortage of north decision makers in her government.

Under David Cameron, senior members including William Hague and George Osborne were strong northern voices.

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, there was no shortage of northern secretaries of state but their governments lacked an economic vision for the North, proving that representation alone is not enough.

We are not arguing that northern constituencies should be in the Cabinet simply to make up the numbers. The North voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and denied Theresa May a majority at this year’s election with a string of target seats in the North that failed to turn blue.

Theresa May is leading a One Nation, Brexit government and the Conservatives need to make serious inroads into the North if they are ever to have a majority again. That means listening to the North.

And there are numerous rising stars to pick from.

In the North East, Anne-Marie Trevelyan has proved that she can get things moving, literally with her A1 campaign in Berwick. In a notoriously hard job as newly installed pensions minister, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has already got the pensions industry onside. In Yorkshire, Rishi Sunak has impressed since taking over from William Hague. With a successful business career behind him, he is one of the few MPs to have already articulated the opportunities for the North post-Brexit with his paper on Free Ports. And in the North West, Seema Kennedy amongst others is clearly a fast rising star. 

Theresa May needs more of these people around her. They have the hunger and the ideas to energise the Government, support the prime minister and offer something new to the public.

The North deserves better representation around the Cabinet table so that the needs of businesses and constituents in the North can be heard at the highest level.

For many reasons, this is an opportunity Theresa May must not miss.