Local political leaders call for new body to speak for the north

Political leaders across the north have hailed the conclusions of a transport summit in Leeds, which has agreed that a representative body of political, business and other leaders should be set up to speak with one voice for the North.

The leaders say that a new body is needed to bring the northern perspective to crucial long-term issues currently being debated, such as Brexit and transport funding. It will also be able to make the case for further devolution of power from Westminster to the north of England.

The summit also called on government to honour the promises it has already made to the north to improve rail infrastructure and pledged to build a broad-based campaign, working with northern members of Parliament, to win Parliamentary backing for its demands.

The new pan-northern body, already being dubbed by some as a “Council of the north”, could have a critical role to play in forthcoming Budget and Brexit discussions. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “Today's unprecedented gathering of northern political and business leaders sends a clear message - the north is getting organised and ready to get its voice heard more loudly than ever before.

“It is time now for the north to pool its political influence and show a real willingness to use it, like London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been doing in recent times. Westminster has failed the north of England but in the past we have struggled to speak with one clear voice on its unfair decisions. With the change in the Parliamentary arithmetic, we have a chance to win more support for our cause.

“By working together with our council leaders, businesses and MPs - alongside trade unions and the community and voluntary sector - we can ensure a strong voice and a fair deal for the north. If we get this right, a new ‘Council of the North’ could mark a real change to the politics of our country.”

Plans for the new forum were agreed at the Northern Transport Summit in Leeds. This unprecedented gathering of business and political Leaders was called after the transport secretary cast doubt over long promised improvements to northern railways. Leaders at the summit demanded a fair funding deal from the government to help rebalance and revitalise the economy of the north.

In a statement signed by six city leaders from across the north, the summit called on the government to:

  • Honour in full commitments already given to deliver improvements to rail services across the north, including full electrification, track and signalling improvements on key commuter routes and the upgrade of hub stations, and to remove uncertainty about this at the earliest opportunity;
  • Prioritise its manifesto commitment to deliver new west-east rail infrastructure reaching across the north, work with Transport for the North to set out a clear timetable for its delivery in the autumn Budget, develop an appraisal process to support it, and provide evidence that this timetable will not be adversely affected by decisions to fund other large infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country; and
  • Set out a fairer distribution of transport funding - road and rail, revenue and capital - across all regions of the country.

The summit agreed to establish a representative and accountable forum of sectors including political and business leaders, trade unions, voluntary and community sector, and universities to enable the voice of the north of England to be properly and effectively represented on issues of common concern.

The statement was signed by: -

  • Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council
  • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
  • Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council
  • Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council
  • Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region
  • Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council
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