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Much to do to bring about the powerhouse reality

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The north of England’s voters must be feeling a little bemused.

After being ignored for so long by Westminster, they are now watching the major parties furiously competing to offer bigger and better powers to the region’s conurbations.

Recent years have seen a succession of reports on regional devolution, culminating in the RSA’s recently published City Growth Commission final report. This focus has culminated over the past fortnight with promises of greater powers for Greater Manchester and pledges of improvements to the region’s east-west rail links.

After being ignored for so long, the north of England’s voters are now watching the major parties furiously competing to offer bigger and better powers

The trouble is that for years, the north of England’s economy has performed more like a misfiring jalopy than the ‘powerhouse’ of the chancellor’s dreams. The output gap between the south-east of England and the northern regions, which was already significant before the recession, widened further during the downturn.

One of the coalition’s early acts was to axe the regional development agencies set up by Labour. Since then, George Osborne has been converted to the devolution cause, although he sees big cities rather than entire regions as the building blocks for regional development.

But devolution comes with a price tag. Greater Manchester’s authorities have traditionally resisted the establishment of a directly elected mayor, placing their faith in existing arrangements. However, the new powers and funding must have proved too tempting an offer. Despite their executive powers, Manchester’s mayor will have their work cut out to make the powerhouse dream a reality.

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