Letter from the Arts Editor: The Great Divide


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The Independent Online

Why, in such a relatively small country, does a pernicious north-south divide persist?

It is a question I have asked before in my own field of the arts, where some of the big, heavily subsidised national companies in London do not tour at all in the rest of the country, and where it is now admitted by government that too high a percentage of public funding goes towards venues and companies in the capital, and not enough to the north of England.

But, as a report out today shows, it is much bigger, and frankly much more important, than a matter of how leisure activities are funded. Local economies in the south are booming, while those in the north are actually contracting. And there seems little chance of this situation being remedied while employment opportunities in the north are so dire compared to the south. As the report spells out, just one in 13 new jobs created in the last decade has been in the north of England.

The government will doubtless respond that this is exactly why it is eager for high speed rail links from the south to the north and indeed across the north, with predicted boosts to the northern economy.

But that alone is simply not enough. These rail links will take years to complete, if indeed they go ahead at all. Action is needed now, ahead of the general election. A more concerted and targeted job creation programme is certainly needed, and perhaps there should be another creation too – a minister for the north of England to supervise the programme and report to Cabinet on it. The statistics out today show a north-south divide which shames the country.