Lord O’Neill, the minister leading work on city devolution and the Northern Powerhouse at the Treasury, has resigned.
Ranked second in the list of the most important people to local government in the LGC 100, Lord O’Neill was a key conduit between councils and central government in developing devolution deals.
Breaking: O’Neill resigns from Treasury
He quit as commercial secretary saying he had joined government primarily “for the specific purpose of helping deliver the Northern Powerhouse and to help boost our economic ties with key growing economies around the world”.
He told prime minister Theresa May that both these factors needed to be at the heart of economic policy following the June referendum and “I am pleased that, despite speculation to the contrary, both appear to be commanding your personal attention”.
Lord O’Neill said he would leave the Conservatives and sit on the independent cross-benches in the House of Lords.
He worked for Goldman Sachs from 1995 until April 2013, when he chaired the Cities Growth Commission before becoming commercial secretary to the Treasury last year, where his responsibilities included city devolution, the Northern Powerhouse, infrastructure policy and housing and planning.
The Financial Times has reported that he was unhappy with the direction of government policy on the Northern Powerhouse, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station and the return of grammar schools.
Reports in August suggested Lord O’Neill was on the cusp of quitting his role over the government’s stance on investment links with China.
Responding to Lord O’Neill’s resignation, think-tank IPPR North’s director Ed Cox said: “It is a great shame that Jim O’Neill is standing down from this important role as he has been an important champion within government for the Northern Powerhouse.
“The prime minister has been very clear in her support for the Northern Powerhouse and IPPR North has always argued that the Northern Powerhouse is not so much a government programme as the sum total of economic activity that makes up our £300bn economy.”
Lord O’Neill’s resignation letter
“I joined the government with the AMR Review already well developed in terms of our ideas and influence, but entered office, believing its goals would be enhanced by being a minister.
“I primarily joined however for the specific purpose of helping deliver the Northern Powerhouse and to help boost our economic ties with key growing economies around the world, especially China and India and other rapidly emerging economies.
“The case for both to be at the heart of British economic policy is even stronger following the referendum, and I am pleased that, despite speculation to the contrary, both appear to be commanding your personal attention. I am leaving knowing that I can play some role supporting these critical initiatives as a non-governmental person.
“I look forward to moving to the cross benches of the Lords, and wish you every success with the exciting challenges and opportunities ahead, and thank you for allowing me the privilege to serve in government.”