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Birmingham playing second fiddle to Manchester and the northern powerhouse

Birmingham playing second fiddle to Manchester and the northern powerhouse

🕔09.Jan 2015

Manchester gets a visit from a Prime Minister and Chancellor almost salivating over an economy-boosting stimulus that other parts of the country can only dream of…..while Birmingham gets, er, Nick Clegg and a substantially less attractive growth deal, writes Paul Dale.

That’s politics, you might say, but if ever proof were needed that Greater Birmingham is taking a distant second place to David Cameron and George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision, sharply contrasting Government press releases set out the differences all too starkly.

A Growth Deal to be administered by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP will bring in a total of £437 million of public and private sector investment, which of course is not at all to be sneezed at.

This, it is claimed, will deliver at least 13,000 jobs, allow up to 4,000 homes to be built and up-skill 7,633 people by 2021, as well as generating up to £80 million in public and private investment.

The main elements of the Greater Birmingham Growth Deal are well known – improvements to Snow Hill Station and the M6, extensions to the Midland Metro tram system, a bus rapid transit scheme, new walkways and cycle tracks, a Centre of Excellence for Advanced Technologies at Birmingham Metropolitan College, the Advanced Manufacturing Hub and a Life Sciences Campus.

At the start of a two-day tour, David Cameron and George Osborne set a six-point plan to transform the economy of the North-west which they said would enable the region to become a “driving force” in the UK economy.

This, it is claimed, will deliver an £18 billion real terms increase in the size of the North-west economy by 2030, equivalent to £2,000 per person and create 100,000 jobs by the end of the next Parliament as well as 25,000 new homes.

The plan, as explained by the Treasury is extraordinary in its scale:

  • To increase the long term growth rate of the north-west to at least the forecast growth rate of the whole UK, by building a northern powerhouse, which could generate an £18 billion real terms increase in the size of the north-west economy by 2030. In real terms this is equivalent to over £2,000 per person in the north-west, or a 50 per cent increase.
  • To raise the employment rate in the north-west to that of the UK average. That will ensure over 100,000 more people in employment in the north-west during the next Parliament by supporting the private sector, backing business investment and new start-ups in our drive for full employment in the north.
  • To deliver the largest ever and most sustained investment in the long-term transport infrastructure of the north-west. With £4.5 billion committed to electrification of existing rail lines, new trains, new urban transport, and a major upgrade to the roads across the whole region. This is on top of the committed £42.6 billion investment in new high speed connections from the north of England to the south and the potential for investment in high speed connections east to west across the north of England.
  • To make the north-west a global centre of outstanding scientific innovation, with a particular focus on material science, biomedicine, supercomputing and energy with major investments in the excellent universities and NHS teaching hospitals of the region, and making sure the energy resources are used to the benefit of local people.
  • To raise the quality of life in the north-west by supporting cultural and sporting strengths, building up to 25,000 new homes, nurturing the rural environment, and improving education outcomes in the region’s schools so over 75,000 more pupils attend outstanding schools.
  • To give greater power and voice to the great cities and counties of the north-west, delivering a new directly-elected mayor for Greater Manchester, and supporting other areas with appropriate plans to give people greater control over their local economy and local government.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne also announced three new measures to improve transport links, invest in science, and boost house-building:

  • Connecting up the north – Colin Matthews, chairman of the Highways Agency, will oversee the development of a plan for a major improvement in trans-Pennine roads.
  • New investment in health research. Professor Ian Greer, Provost of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, will develop “Health North” – a programme to unlock future medical innovations
  • The short list for Housing Zones – areas which are in line to receive government loans to regenerate run-down brownfield areas into new housing.

The offer from the Government for Greater Manchester and the north-west is at an entirely different level to what is on the table for Greater Birmingham in terms of the economic boost it will deliver, particularly in terms of much-needed improvement to transport infrastructure.

If the two deals were comparing earthquakes, Greater Manchester would be almost off the Richter scale, while Greater Birmingham would not be much more than be a medium sized tremor.

It must be stressed, again, that the northern powerhouse package is underpinned by Greater Manchester’s agreement to move to an elected metro mayor, at the Government’s insistence. The Greater Birmingham combined authority, meanwhile, doesn’t actually exist, other than as an aspiration, and any thought of an elected mayor is light years away.

Cameron and Osborne will probably pitch up here before the election to praise the Greater Birmingham Growth Deal, and why not? But let’s not fool ourselves into believing this is a Midland powerhouse, because it is not.

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