THE north of England must be given more money and power once the UK leaves the European Union, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has said.
Dr Sentamu spoke in a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, which was prompted by a report published last month by the IPPR North think tank, The state of the North 2016. The report recommended seizing radical ideas — in areas including transport infrastructure and childcare — to close the gap between the north and south.
Dr Sentamu said: “Successive Governments have seen the City of London as the economic powerhouse. And the result has been to suck energy and resources southwards. . .
“If we are, indeed, poised to ‘take back control’, I ask, my Lords, how will the people of the north be offered the chance to take back control of their own lives and communities? Brexit cannot just be about more control for London.”
Under the current economic system, he said, “the people who bear the greatest burden of risk . . . are being rewarded with zero-hours contracts, fake self-employment and low pay”.
The north needed more devolution of powers, Cabinet-level minsters to champion its prospects, and a more diverse economy “that draws on the skills of northern people”, Dr Sentamu said.
“If Brexit prompts a shift in that direction, it may just be worth the uncertainty that we are currently experiencing,” he concluded.
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, also spoke in the debate. He said that the north must not be reduced to just one place: it was diverse and complex. This extended to Brexit: “However particular communities voted, the split is pretty even in most places,” he said. “Leeds voted to remain; Bradford voted to leave. We still have to pay attention, not just to those who won the referendum, but to those who are very concerned about the future.”
He gave the example of farmers who will lose their EU subsidies once the UK leaves the EU: would the Government compensate them for their loss, he asked.
“That is creating an uncertain future. I gather that £350 million has already been committed to the NHS every week. We keep hearing figures cited, but there is a finite pot of money — so what is going to give? We need honesty and realism as that is taken forward.”
The IPPR North report found that the north of England suffered a huge productivity gap. If workers in the north were able to halve the difference between their output per head and the national level, the northern economy would grow by 11.9 per cent, or £34 billion.
Yet £1600 more per person was spent by the Government on infrastructure in London than in any region north of the Humber.
The director of IPPR North, Ed Cox, said: “We believe the vote to ‘take back control’ in the north was as much about rejecting Westminster as it was the EU. The status quo was on the ballot paper — and it was decisively rejected.
“Northern entrepreneurs led the industrial revolution not by waiting for permission but by getting on with it — taking back control from an elite which paid the north little heed.”
Among the ideas proposed during the Lords debate was significantly increasing transport-spending to create more connectivity and integration between the towns of the north, and constitutional reform of local government.