What You Need To Know About Boris' Northern Surge Splurge
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid is tipped to unveil a large-scale rethink of public spending priorities. The aim of the 11 March budget is expected to be a rebalancing of the UK economy to provide greater investment in the north, a part of the world in which (coincidentally) the ruling Conservative party has just made substantial political gains.
So what should you listen out for on the 11th? Which words, phrases or pledges will be indicators of a big Manchester win, and which will suggest a fur-coat-and-no-knickers budget that looks good, but lacks real financial solidity?
1. Green Book
Any reference to rethinking the Treasury's famous Green Book will mean a win for Manchester. Today the Green Book provides the guide for assessing which infrastructure investments are worth pursuing, and which are not, and the criteria depends on its effect on UK gross domestic product. Inevitably, London projects yield far greater GDP advantages than equivalent volumes of investment elsewhere, and thus London gets Crossrail whilst Manchester gets Northern Rail. A revised Green Book would amend the criteria to consider the need to close regional variations, thus improving the viability criteria for Northern projects, the Financial Times reported.
2. MIT for the North
If you hear this on 11 March, then something has probably gone wrong. The idea circulating in Whitehall circles was to create a regional tech and innovation hub to immitate the formidable economic force unleashed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This would be very costly, and risk duplicating or diluting the University of Manchester, which is already rated alongside London, Cambridge and Oxford as a tech hub.
The prime minister's adviser Dominic Cummings argued instead for a massive boost to existing Northern universities. This will produce quicker wins and improved status for Manchester, and none of the awkwardness created if an MIT for the North lands in Leeds, Sheffield or Newcastle. If the MIT for the North idea survives intact, this means Cummings lost out in the Downing Street power struggle, the Manchester Evening News reported.
3. Task Force
Whitehall chatter suggests a new Northern Task Force to give the rethought regional agenda a powerful focus. You could call it the Northern Powerhouse, maybe? But, joking aside, it seems fairly certain that the government's attention is once again turned to the north in a way that is was not during the Theresa May years.
Any mention of Piccadilly Station will amount to a massive win for Manchester. The £600M Northern Hub proposals to relieve bottlenecks around Piccadilly railway station is now five years late, and urgently needed. It would be a relatively low-budget win for Boris Johnson that would also send the message that the government is now listening. Resolving rail problems will be popular with commuters in old and new Tory seats.
If this word appears, it's time to crack open the bubbly. The Oakervee review into the HS2 high speed train line is expected to recommend stronger Transpennine rail links. A new east-west rail line could be completed ahead of the 2035-2040 arrival time for HS2, a construction timetable rapid enough for the government to see some political benefits.