George Osborne vowed to revitalise the cities of the North – but have the benefits been shared fairly?

Powerhouse Manchester rouses the anger of rivals in the provinces

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The Independent Online

Last summer, George Osborne travelled to Manchester’s Science and Industry museum to make a speech which, at the time, received scant attention in the London press.

Surrounded by the giant steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution, Mr Osborne made a bold claim. His Government, he said, would revitalise Britain’s great provincial cities to create a new “Northern Powerhouse”.

Seven months on, and progress has been made. The Government has given the go-ahead for a new high-speed rail link to cut journey times between Manchester to Leeds from 48 to 26 minutes.

Agreement has been reached to devolve swathes of power and money from London to a new mayor for Greater Manchester, who will control transport budgets, £500m of skills funding annually, and a £300m housing investment fund. Mr Osborne has also given the go-ahead to a £235m Sir Henry Royce Institute for advanced materials research based in Manchester. The city will also get a £78m theatre and arts venue to be built on the former site of Granada TV studios. It will hold 5,000 and be the home of the Manchester International Festival.

People run by The Lowry Centre and Media City in Salford Quays, Greater Mancheter, which is now home to the BBC (Getty)

But while Manchester is “powering up”, other Northern cities in the powerhouse are seeing rather less from Mr Osborne’s initiative.

Ministers are yet to sign off plans to devolve the same kind of investment deal to the Leeds Metropolitan. At the same time, Liverpool is complaining that the new HS3 link between Leeds and Manchester will not be connected to it – meaning it will take longer to travel from Liverpool to Manchester than it will from Leeds.

Some wonder whether the new deal means that they will just be spokes to Manchester’s cultural and economic hubs – and perhaps, most importantly, whether the Government is more interested in creating a Manchester powerhouse than a true Northern powerhouse. Talk privately to some people in Westminster and they substantiate some of these fears. In a country the size of England, they say, it is not realistic or desirable to try and replicate the same sort of cultural, scientific and infrastructure investment across six or seven different cities.

“In a global economy you want one city outside London which is the focus for international investment and I think a judgement has been taken that that should be Manchester,” said one. “You’re not going to get direct flights from China into Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle so you have to decide where to concentrate your resources.”

But the idea of cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds playing second fiddle to Manchester is not one which is popular with their leaders.

Some suspect that there may be an element of political favouritism going on with Manchester because George Osborne’s own constituency is in the city’s commuter belt.

Birmingham's Bullring Shopping Centre is one of the UK's favourite landmarks (Getty)

On top of the new investment in Manchester, the city now also boasts the new BBC headquarters, two world-class Premier League football teams and an airport with daily flights to China, the US and the Gulf. The economic and cultural cards appear to be stacked in its favour.

“I do not have a problem with the leadership in Manchester doing the best to promote their city,” says the leader of Leeds City Council Keith Wakefield.

“I do have a problem when the Chancellor talks about a Northern hub but does not appear to recognise the potential of other parts of the Northern region.”

The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, is concerned that not enough is being done to connect Liverpool with the rest of the north to make the powerhouse a reality. “The danger is that you could have those that are connected and those that are not connected,” he points out.

Their problems pale into insignificance to those of Birmingham – it is not even part of the powerhouse and hears very little but criticism from Government.

New figures show that greater Birmingham and Solihull got £378m in local growth deals to promote their regional economy compared to Greater Manchester which got £533m.

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Certainly if you look at the City Deal that Manchester has and the Growth fund they have been very generous. We in the Midlands have to get our act together so we can demand similar deals.”

Charlotte Alldritt, Secretary of the City Growth Commission, said that Manchester’s pre-eminence had been partly due to its astute civic leadership.

“It is ahead of the game in terms of economic development and has been really good at playing the Whitehall game.”

But she says that she believes Mr Osborne is sincere in his desire to strengthen the whole of the north of the country and not just Manchester and its environs. “What’s happening in  Manchester is an incentive for other cities to react,” she says.

Manchester’s millions: New investment


£1.2bn invested up-front in infrastructure improvements in Greater Manchester to be “paid back” as economic growth is seen.


The new £235m Sir Henry Royce Institute for advanced materials research and innovation, based in Manchester.


A £78m, 5,000-seat theatre and arts venue to be built on the former site of Granada’s TV studios (below). It will be the home of the Manchester International Festival.


A new high-speed rail link with Leeds cutting journey times to less than 30 minutes.


A £533m growth deal to attract investment and jobs to the area.

A tale of two cities: How they rate


Lord Mayor: Shafique Shah

Most Competitive City rank (Economist Intelligence Unit/Citi Group 2013): 43rd in the world by 2025

Life expectancy from birth: 78.0 for males and 82.3 for females

Busiest airport: 7th in UK

Population: 1.09 million

Education performance in 5 GCSE’s or equivalent: 55.20%

Tourists: 1 million per annum

University League Table 2015: University of Birmingham – 17th


Lord Mayor: Susan Cooley

Most Competitive City rank: Didn’t make the list

Life expectancy from birth:  77.3 for males and 81.2 for females

Busiest airport: 3rd in UK

Population: 2.71 million

Education performance in 2014 of 5 GCSE’s or equivalent: 50.70%

Tourists: 1 million per annum

University League Table 2015: University of Manchester – ranked 28th