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Lord O’Neill makes the case for Northern devolution outside the cities

In a commendably brief paper, Lord Jim O’Neill has called for devolution to reach outside the cities.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley, who is Vice Chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, has long been a cheerleader for devolution. In Working Together: Devolution in the Northern Powerhouse, he seeks to move the debate forward.

O’Neill lauds the soft power exercised by Metro Mayors, which he sees as a success.

“Despite limitations to their formal powers, [the mayors’] soft or convening powers have been considerable.” O’Neill notes. And he looks to the relative strength of the North West economy, and Greater Manchester in particular, as evidence in support of the Northern Powerhouse and Combined Authority projects.

The next area for devolution?

O’Neill identifies four new areas ripe for devolution:

  • Cheshire and Warrington have been considering devolution, with a Mayor covering the county, for some years. O’Neill points to the coming of HS2, economic centres such as Warrington, Chester and Crewe. He also notes the “health innovation corridor” stretching from Manchester to Liverpool via Alderley Park.
  • Borderlands – an area of a million people covering the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, north Northumberland and the area around Carlisle in Cumbria. Imagination would be needed to make this work, but O’Neill notes it already has support north and south of the border.
  • North of the Tyne: an area centred on Newcastle-upon-Tyne and stretching from Prudhoe to Berwick.
  • Yorkshire Combined Authority has long been an aspiration for many. The Sheffield City Region finally has a mayor (Dan Jarvis) though as yet without many powers. Whether the political will can be found to finally bring about a One Yorkshire deal remains to be seen.

With O’Neill as Vice Chair and George Osborne as Chair, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has considerably more clout than many similar organisations. The challenge remains for disparate local politicians from different areas and different parties to demonstrate to central Government a commitment to work together and sign up to a common deal.

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Iain Roberts

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