North West business leaders have issued their demands of Rishi Sunak ahead of his crucial Spending Review announcement on Wednesday, urging the Chancellor to address issues such as HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, levelling up, and prioritising the region’s green economy.
Mr Sunak is due to address MPs at the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of a major one-year Spending Review – unprecedented as it comes in the middle of a national lockdown.
Some of the headline announcements expected from the Chancellor will be the Whitehall budgets for next year, and block grants for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
That’s as well as an anticipated pay freeze for millions of public sector workers, and a cut to foreign aid.
No huge cuts are expected, however the Chancellor will reveal the forecast laying out the full, devastating impact of the coronavirus on the economy.
Announcements have already been made about some of the things we can expect in the announcement – for defence, the NHS, roads, border security after Brexit, and even the ‘festival of Brexit Britain’.
Ahead of Mr Sunak’s speech on Wednesday, in what is a busy week of Government announcements, North West business leaders have made demands over what they want to hear from the Chancellor.
Electricity North West, power network operator for the region, said it was vital that Mr Sunak announces an investment in the green economy.
Peter Emery, CEO said: “The Government’s commitment to a green recovery is an encouraging step in the right direction, but more will be required to hit the UK’s net zero targets.
“We are already investing £63.5m in the network through our Leading the North West to Zero Carbon plan as we try to help our region hit its ambitious targets – to be net zero by 2038 in Greater Manchester whilst we are also very conscious there are active discussions about targets in Cumbria, Lancashire and other parts of the North West region we serve.
“Not only that, spades are already in the ground on key strategic projects including the South Manchester Enterprise Zone near Manchester Airport.
“More will need to be done in the years to come, but we have a huge opportunity now to drive the UK’s recovery from Covid-19 by investing in the green economy. At Electricity North West, we are in the middle of our largest ever public engagement programme and it is clear from what we have heard so far that people across the North West want us to be proactive and step up our support for the transition to zero carbon.
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“We’d urge the Chancellor to do the same and use his Spending Review next week to prioritise energy infrastructure and do even more to accelerate a truly green recovery.”
Frank McKenna, chief executive of business lobbying group Downtown in Business, has proposed eight policy initiatives to the Government in a white paper published this week.
They include to introduce a one-off ‘windfall tax’ on key sectors to raise money for combined authorities and infrastructure, to reform the treasury green book that “currently favours the South East”, and to give more power and responsibility to combined authorities, including for skills, training, decarbonization and infrastructure.
They also include to bring forward “all aspects” of HS2, to fully commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and to build the third runway at Heathrow.
Mr McKenna said: “Neither the country nor the Government have had the best year, the Chancellor’s Spending Review statement on Wednesday is a chance to provide a step change in 2021.
“We need radical reform through devolution and innovative ways of raising revenue to invest in infrastructure. This is the only way to get the economy back on track.
“As we have seen with the pandemic, you cannot control everything from Westminster, nor can you rebuild the economy just in London. We need the Government to especially invest in transport across the regions, improve productivity and regenerate local communities.”
The Chancellor is expected to announce plans to rewrite the Government’s green book – the document setting out guidance on how to appraise and evaluate policies, projects and programmes.
Transport for the North said it wants the review to outline the changes to appraisal rules that will help the region “build back better” and “truly level up”.
The sub-national transport body said the North has been held back by decades of underinvestment, and Mr Sunak has the opportunity to unveil changes to the way the Treasury assesses projects that could go on to “transform and rebuild the region by securing investment in vital schemes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail”.
Tim Foster, head of policy, strategy, economics and research at Transport for the North, said: “It’s no secret that the North has historically received less funding than the South. Analysis of projects over the decades has revealed a systemic imbalance in the way decisions are made have exacerbated the much-reported divide.
“This has to change if the Government is to realise it’s ambitious, and much-needed, ‘levelling up’ agenda and set the people and businesses of the North on the way to sustainable, greener growth.”
Elsewhere, ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, leading figures from business and academia have urged the Government to harness the opportunities available across the North of England in order to fulfil its 10 point green industrial revolution plan.
N8 Research Partnership, the strategic collaboration of the eight research-intensive universities in the North, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) and Eden Project North have joined forces to ask the government to give their support to schemes and projects that will drive the UK’s green future and help deliver the aims of the plan, unveiled earlier this week.
These projects include N8 and NPP’s Net Zero North (NzN), which will connect the Northern Powerhouse’s science and research capabilities, skills providers and businesses to forge a green recovery from Covid-19 while simultaneously putting the UK at the forefront at the global drive for net zero carbon.
Three parallel, pan-northern projects within NzN – Grow Smarter, Sustainable Hydrogen Economy and Skills and Productivity – will accelerate economic growth by creating new jobs in the green economy and upskilling the workforces in economically challenging towns, cities and rural and coastal locations, supporting firms to innovate and adopt low-carbon business models.
The Skills and Productivity element of NzN will see the creation of a green-skills ladder promoting upskilling of the Northern workforce for a sustainable and resource-efficient society, the group said.
The NzN Skills Alliance will see the establishment of skills hubs in Teesside and Eden North in Lancashire.
Eden Project North in Morecambe is proposed as a year-round destination that would combine indoor and outdoor experiences, connecting people with the internationally-significant natural environment of Morecambe Bay.
It is run by the team behind the Eden Project in Cornwall, which has injected more than £2bn into the south west regional economy. A business case has been submitted to Government, asking for £70m to make Eden Project North a reality.
Professor Anthony Hollander, pro-vice-chancellor of research and impact at University of Liverpool and chair of the N8 Strategic executive group, said: “The N8 and other Northern universities involved in NzN will play a key role in driving growth of the green economy, working closely with industry, further education colleges and third sector partners.
“We are particularly excited about the opportunities that will come from co-locating one of our proposed skills hubs with Eden Project North, enabling us to join forces in training the green economy workforce and bringing state-of-the-art knowledge about Net Zero to the people of the north in an exciting and accessible way.”
Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Decarbonisation and working towards Net Zero here in the North has the potential to secure and create thousands of new skilled jobs, bringing huge economic growth in the process.
“The North is already leading the world in developing sustainable energy technologies. We now need more investment in innovation and skills targeted at sectors such as hydrogen converted from the electricity of Small Modular Reactors and offshore wind.
“This effort can drive forward levelling up and the recovery at the same time, ensuring those who leave sectors in crisis can – through skills investment – join growing parts of the skilled energy workforce.”