Creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’: the ideas behind George Osborne’s plan

George Osborne, pictured on the campaign trail before the election.
George Osborne, pictured on the campaign trail before the election.

Chancellor George Osborne is urging England’s big cities to take on more powers under the leadership of directly elected mayors.

Q: What is the idea behind Mr Osborne’s plan?

A: The Chancellor believes strong civic leaders can be a powerful force for regenerating England’s regions and help ensure economic growth is spread throughout the country and not just concentrated on the South East. He points to the success of London mayor Boris Johnson in promoting the capital around the world as an example of what such a high profile figure can achieve.

It would also enable the English regions to claim for themselves the sort of powers that have been devolved to Scotland and Wales.

Q: But haven’t many cities rejected directly elected mayors?

A: In a series referendums in 2012, nine English cities - Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford - all voted “no” to the idea, with only Bristol in favour of acquiring one while Doncaster voted to keep its mayor.

Q: So why does Mr Osborne believe they can be persuaded to change their minds now?

A: He is holding out the prospect of massive devolution for powers - and funding - from Whitehall to city halls that take up the offer. He has already convinced the ten councils in Greater Manchester to come together in a combined authority under the leadership of the first “metro-wide” elected mayor outside of London, with elections due to be held in 2017.

The new mayor will take control of a devolved transport budget, strategic planning, public health, a new housing investment fund as well as the functions of the police and crime commissioner.

It is all part of the Chancellor’s vision of a creating “northern powerhouse”, investing £15 billion in science, transport and infrastructure in a belt of cities running from Liverpool to Hull so that they can together “take on the world”.

Q: What has been the response so far?

A: The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, has backed the Government’s plans saying that an “over-centralised national system” was not working for people in the area.

However there is reported to be resistance to the idea in cities such as Leeds and Newcastle, while in Liverpool the city’s elected mayor Joe Anderson has expressed frustration that Merseyside has been unable to claim the sort of powers being devolved to Manchester because other local authority leaders in the area have not come on board.