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Northern devolution isn’t about growth at London’s expense

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The northern powerhouse has sparked a healthy debate – and rightly so.

Devolution must be a one way process. If it is to bring real benefits to local people, we have to get it right.

Greater Manchester is at the forefront of those regions committed to deliver the benefits of devolution and we have the will, determination and ability to make it work. While it is the needs and interests of Greater Manchester people that motivate Greater Manchester’s political leaders, there is also a bigger picture that we won’t lose sight of.

Devolution is in everyone’s interest, both in the north and the south. It is not about growing at the expense of London but about driving the growth of the nation as a whole, and bridging the north/south divide.

Here in Greater Manchester we have the ambition to become a financially self-sustaining city region by investing in our residents to become healthier, better skilled, better paid and more independent.

Greater Manchester has a proud history as a vital cog of the industrial north; an engine of the UK’s growth. Devolution is an opportunity to put ourselves firmly back on that stage. That will happen best as part of a growing north. By bringing together our northern cities the north can become much greater than the sum of its parts.

The BBC’s move north illustrates the opportunities and attractions of this region as one of the world leaders in the media industry. People who had made their careers and lives in London chose to follow the BBC to Salford and, critically, they have good reasons to stay because the geographical and financial advantages give them access to a better quality of life.

It is no secret that we are in the midst of a national housing crisis. Local authorities are facing severe housing shortages as the gap between house prices in London and those in other major cities reaches its widest in 20 years.

We need to deliver more new homes for working households who will make our economy grow: the people leaving our colleges and universities, people retraining mid-career or coming back into the workforce to take advantage of new opportunities in our knowledge-based industries, the media and cultural sector, our health and biotech sector or in retail, tourism and hospitality.

That means housing they can afford and in Greater Manchester, like much of the north, that’s still a realistic prospect, with average house prices around £160,000. For an 85% mortgage, you’d need a household income of around £39,000 and to have saved up a £24,000 deposit but in London, that average is £525,000. So, unless you’re earning well in excess of £100,000, you’re renting, and often renting with support from housing benefit, even for those in work, whether that’s in affordable or private rented housing.

Historically, many students leaving Greater Manchester’s universities have headed to London after they graduate, where they and others from across the north and beyond have added to the pressure on the housing market.

But over the last few years that trend has shifted, with many graduates choosing to stay in the region. Figures from Prospects, the careers advice service, show that the north-west employs more than 10% of the total national number of working people who graduated in 2013-14 (compared to London’s 21.3%), putting it on a par with the south-east region. Manchester alone employs more than 2,000 with home-grown graduates starting their own businesses, creating jobs and boosting the local economy.

If we want to do better at keeping more of those graduates here in Greater Manchester, and at attracting graduates from elsewhere, not least the south, to come and start their careers in Greater Manchester and other northern cities, then a combination of interesting jobs in a growing economy and homes they can afford is a pretty good start.

That prospect is even more attractive when those northern cities are better connected to each other through high-speed rail, so we have the connectivity to act as a single economic powerhouse.

Devolution to Greater Manchester and the north and a growing northern economy rebalances the national economy. The opportunity for London is that this takes some of the pressure that growth creates away from on overheated housing market and the costs that creates for public bodies.

Devolution can help ease some of the pressure for everyone’s benefit. Of course we want devolution of power, resources and influence for what it gives to Greater Manchester and the north - but we don’t mind helping London out along the way.

Tony Lloyd  (Lab), interim mayor of Greater Manchester


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