On the 12th January 2017 Baroness Massey of Darwen held a debate in the Lords, “that this House takes note of the Institute for Public Policy Research’s annual State of the North report, and the case for equality of opportunity and sustainable productivity.” The Archbishop of York, Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, called for greater investment in and devolution to the north to create a more diverse economy that draws on the skills of northern people.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, noble Lords will not be surprised that an Archbishop of York is keen to contribute to this debate on the state of the north of England, but, as I remind myself, one title held by all Archbishops of York is Primate of England and Metropolitan.
In focusing on the north, I want to avoid any suggestion that the north and south of England can be spoken of as if a latter-day Hadrian’s Wall has been built from the Dee to the Humber. We are one nation, and I, for one, want to see the bonds and sympathies between all people of this land strengthened. It is very good that the state of the north is being debated today in your Lordships’ House. The state of the north is important because, unless we get things right in the north, the whole country will be more divided, less prosperous and unhappier. In short, the whole country needs the north to flourish.
The report looks, in very interesting ways, at the variable economic resilience of areas of the north. I want to focus on another sort of resilience that is just as important as economic resilience: human resilience, the resilience of the people of the north. Any plans for greater prosperity and flourishing in the north must build on that vital characteristic, the resilience of the people.
Over more than 30 years, the economy of this nation has shifted from manufacturing industry to services. Successive Governments have seen the City of London as the economic powerhouse. The result has been to suck energy and resources southwards. London has become an exceptional capital city. It is an exception to the ways of life and the economic prospects of the rest of the country, especially in the north.
The report from IPPR North warns us that the uncertainties surrounding the Brexit vote could set the recovery of the north back very badly. But the status quo before 23 June was not serving the north well. If we are, indeed, poised to “take back control”, how will the people of the north be offered the chance to take back control of their own lives and communities? Brexit cannot just be about more control for London.
It is certainly heartening that the Government have understood the need for an industrial strategy. Making things matters. So do good employment practices. Our economic system is supposed to reward risk-takers, but the people who bear the greatest burden of risk these days are being rewarded with zero-hours contracts, fake self-employment and low pay. Much of the resilience of the north and its people stems from the long history of pride in the jobs that our industrial past created. We may not get the old industries back, but we do need jobs in which people can take pride, and which reward their resilience.
The report expresses cautious optimism about the Secretary of State’s approach to a place-based industrial strategy. I share that optimism. It is significant that the Secretary of State comes to this role with a background in community policy. If, as I think he does, the Secretary of State “gets” communities—if he gets the way in which the resilience of the people is an asset on which the economy can build—then there are some sparks of hope for a realistic, resilient northern economy to emerge. The people of the north cherish their history, their toughness and their contribution to the well-being of the nation. That is what has made the north resilient for decades, even for centuries. Our economic policies must build on those assets and not undermine them.
We need more devolution from south to north—devolution of powers and of institutions. We need Cabinet-level figures to champion the north—people who know the qualities of the north from their own experience. We need a more diverse economy that draws on the skills of northern people. If Brexit prompts a shift in that direction, it may just be worth the uncertainty that we are currently experiencing. I am grateful to IPPR North for this excellent report and I urge your Lordships to reflect carefully on it.