Andy Burnham says government has ‘no intention of levelling up the North’ ahead of spending review
The Government has “no genuine intention” of levelling up the North with its London-centric approach in an unbalanced system, Andy Burnham says.
The Labour and Co-operative Mayor of Greater Manchester said long-term infrastructure projects alone will not do the job, as he called for “much more substantial devolution” to shift power away from Westminster.
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Burnham, dubbed “King of the North” for his demands to Government for greater funding to cope with stringent coronavirus restrictions the region had been placed under, made the call in a speech at Saturday’s virtual Co-operative Party conference.
He labelled the Government’s response on the pandemic as “very poor”, adding that measures should have been more localised.
“Countries that have more balanced governments between the national, regional and local level I think have mounted a better response to this pandemic, but here when they should have localised, our Government instead centralised and privatised,” Mr Burnham said.
“It hasn’t joined the dots on the ground.”
He went on to describe how there have been problems with contact tracing at a regional level.
Burnham said: “We have had call centres, at great public expense, trying to do contact tracing, ringing the same people in the same house multiple times.
“This really needs to be addressed in our response going forward from here and I think the left needs to address this question because the left of politics in our country is too centralising as well.
“I think we now need to embrace a completely different way of running things, and that of course is much more substantial devolution to all parts of England, as well as the three nations too.
Boris Johnson has come under fire for criticising Scottish devolution (Photo: Getty)
“Centralised government that we have had for centuries has created a very divided country.
“So when you vest all political power in one postcode – SW1A 0AA – don’t be surprised that that political power is used more for the benefit of the region it is in, rather than all regions equally.”
The former Labour leader hopeful said politics being based in London leads to biases. He also believes increased devolution is the way forward.
Last week Boris Johnson caused controversy by describing Scottish devolution as Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.
“The other thing about centralisation is I think it does lead to privatisation because then when the Government seeks to let contracts it immediately turns to those big corporate entities at a national level”, Burnham said.
“I think if you look back over time, the amount of public money that has been wasted in outsourced contracts that have paid handsome profits to those organisations, often for poor delivery, I think we have got to, at some point say, surely this is not the way to do things.
“I think devolution of power to the English regions could be the single-biggest thing that would take the co-operative movement from where it is today to an entirely new level, because if budgets were in the hands of regions and local authorities making their own decisions on a whole range of things I think it is pretty certain there would be far greater commissioning of people in the not-for-profit and in the community and co-operative sector.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, holds a news conference (Photo: REUTERS/Phil Noble)
“I just hope that the scandals we have seen this year, in terms of public money being thrown at organisations that have siphoned so much out and then not delivered for the country, has exposed more clearly than ever how our centralised London-centric approach to running the country just simply does not work for everywhere.
Investing in people
“We have seen how the Government continues to want to treat large parts of the North: putting us under restrictions without giving us the funding to deal with the economic consequences.
“How much longer are we going to put up with this? Isn’t it time actually that the left became the voice of devolution and the voice of levelling up?
“We are getting false claims to do all this from the Government.
“I don’t believe they have got any genuine intention to level-up the North, and even if they have you can’t do it by long-term infrastructure projects alone.
“You level-up the North by investing in people, by investing in communities and then building up from there – keeping the wealth in those communities and recycling it for the benefit for everyone,” Mr Burnham added.