Playing politics: Tories have botched the Northern Powerhouse scheme


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The Independent Online

The Northern Powerhouse was great politics. It was good for the Conservative Party, which had all but ceased to exist in the great cities of the North, because it conveyed a message that a Conservative government was reaching out to parts of the country that had rejected them in the past. It was good also for its main sponsor, George Osborne, one of the few Conservative MPs to hold a northern constituency, who hopes to take over as Conservative leader when David Cameron stands down.

And it was greatly to the credit of the Labour-run local authorities in the Greater Manchester area that they were prepared to co-operate with a Conservative-led government in a scheme that included a directly elected mayor whose writ will cross council boundaries.

But then the election was over, and it was revealed that an early casualty of the Government’s austerity drive was the proposed electrification of the rail link between Leeds and Manchester, which is now on hold. Work was due to begin next month on the “Ordsall Chord”, an £85m project that would allow more trains through central Manchester, but that has been held up by a legal challenge.

This month, it also emerged that Manchester’s planned “Oyster card” style ticketing system had stalled. The Greater Manchester Transport Authority had concluded that Atos, the private firm hired to deliver the new system, was not capable of fulfilling its contract, which has been terminated.

The Northern Powerhouse was to be a showcase for the Government’s policy of devolving power, and closing the North-South divide. Better transport links were to be the driver of economic growth.

It is a fine idea in principle, but it works only if it is properly managed and if the Government is prepared to supply the necessary funds. That is not happening.