Northern business leaders call for a clear roadmap out of lockdown


80 prominent Northern business leaders have written to the Prime Minister to warn that levelling-up is at risk unless decisive action is taken protect the Northern economy from further damage.  

The letter has been signed by leading business figures including Charlie Cornish, CEO of Manchester Airports Group, Chris Oglesby, Chief Executive of Bruntwood, and Ben Andrews, Managing Director of HSBC UK.  

The call echoes concerns of the Northern Research Group, a group of more than 50 Northern Conservative MPs led by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who wrote to Boris Johnson last Monday to demand an economic recovery plan for the north of England.  

Business leaders are calling for commitment to delivering levelling-up, saying the “recovery from Covid can and must go alongside a plan for rebalancing and decarbonising the UK economy.” 

The letter goes on to say further devolution of power is essential to rebalancing the economy, arguing that “we need the recovery led from here, with decisions and funding led by leaders here, not driven from Whitehall.” 

Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said:

“The fact that this many prominent business leaders and MPs from across the North are united on what needs to be done should be a real wake-up call to the government. 

“We need to bring forward promised infrastructure investment to create thousands of jobs, while boosting productivity and connectivity. And we need a Northern Economic Recovery Plan to support sustained growth in the long-term. 

“There’s simply no excuse for the government to remain complacent when it comes to rebalancing the economy – pandemic or no pandemic. The recovery must tackle underlying issues in closing the North-South divide, decarbonising the economy and driving the Northern Powerhouse forward, rather than simply papering over cracks in the short-term.” 

Mary Robinson MP for Cheadle said :

“We welcome today’s announcement that northern businesses have responded positively to our letter to the Prime Minister calling for the North to be prioritised in our country’s economic recovery. 

“The North is at its strongest when it’s elected representatives, leaders and businesses pull together to deliver on our shared ambition. 

“Never has there been a more pertinent and urgent political and economic case than ours. 

“Instead of moving forwards on our shared ambition to level-up our communities, the cost of Covid and the virus itself threatens to send the North into reverse. 

“That’s why we’ve called on the Government to announce a clear roadmap down the tiering system and out of lockdown restrictions when it is safe to do so; to accelerate and fast-track key infrastructure projects to stimulate jobs and growth; and to deliver a Northern Economic Recovery Plan to help the North. 

Read the full letter below:

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as a collective voice for business and civic leaders across the North, including MPs and Metro Mayors of all political parties, to call for commitment to delivering on levelling-up, as our regions bear the brunt of economic damage from further Covid restrictions.

A recovery from Covid can and must go alongside a plan for rebalancing the UK economy. However, existing problems with unemployment and productivity – caused by decades of underinvestment – have left the North’s economy vulnerable to further decline. With many areas now under stricter lockdowns, there is a risk the Northern Powerhouse will remain a pipedream.

While some of the measures announced by the Government in recent weeks, including the Winter Recovery Plan, will go a long way to protecting thousands of jobs and businesses, we are concerned that this will not be enough. The revival seen in cities such as Manchester and Leeds risks fizzling out unless the Government recommits to real devolution of power alongside substantial investment in the short- and long-term.

As such, we are setting out a three-point plan which can deliver a road to recovery post pandemic, alongside levelling-up.

1. Firstly, we ask for a clear route out of lockdown, setting out a comprehensive course of action for the tiering system which clarifies when and how local areas can ease restrictions to relieve pressure on the economy. More certainty would help to provide reassurance and confidence to people and businesses across the North, many of whom have been living under stricter lockdowns for more than four months. We also ask for confirmation from the Government that it will be local authorities that have the power to come out of restrictions, if after four weeks the restrictions are judged to be ineffective.

2. Secondly, we urge the Government to bring forward investment which was promised in last year’s manifesto to build back better. Large-scale infrastructure projects, including the full delivery of HS2 and NPR, as well as ultrafast broadband, will be critical to driving up connectivity and productivity – which here still lags far behind the national average. In the process, we can hope to stem the tide of rising unemployment with hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs for Northern workers.

3. Thirdly, we reiterate the need for a Northern Economic Recovery Plan, in order to boost employment opportunities and promote economic growth for Northern communities.

The North is at a critical turning point. We believe by implementing this plan, we can unlock the North’s true economic potential – simultaneously spearheading a recovery for the whole of the UK and turning levelling-up into the reality you promised us.

Image credit: REUTERS / PHIL NOBLE -

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