The Needs of the North

On Monday a government review of the HS2 high-speed rail link was leaked, and will no doubt raise further concerns about the future of the ‘northern powerhouse’.

Rochdale, like other parts of the North, was promised major government investment which we need to see delivered.

We need HS2 but its purpose should be to be a part of a broader investment in transport connectivity, linking our northern towns and cities to each other and on to Birmingham and London instead of rattling along on outdated Pacer trains for a three-hour journey which should take 45 minutes.

But the North’s big test for Prime Minister Johnson cannot be based on one scheme and it definitely shouldn’t be based on moving the House of Lords to York, which would be a strange misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Instead, the test for Prime Minister Johnson should be focusing on whether he has a strategy for investment in world-class skills training, for investment in the research capacities of Northern universities so often starved of money in the past to the benefit of London and Oxbridge. Plans for a leading northern institution to ‘rival Oxford and Cambridge’ appear to be shelved, as power struggles within government over northern policies are continuously being fought.

Chief Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings is said to be sceptical of such plans and has instead ordered civil servants to draw up plans to inject universities with money.

It is unclear as to how much money would come our way, or how much of it will be swallowed up by Oxford, Cambridge, and London.

People in Rochdale and across the north will be watching very closely as to how the Prime Minister handles this first big test of his commitment to the north.

Like one of Northern’s trains, the ‘northern powerhouse’ seems to have ground to a halt – just when we need the boost more than ever.

This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 23 January 2020.