One of the biggest disappointments of the last fourteen years has been the growing divide between the North and the South of the UK.
Labour in office promised their policies would reduce inequalities, and start to put right the big gap between living standards and economic success in London and the Southeast of England compared to the rest of the UK.
They set up or expanded regional and devolved quangos and governments, gave them large budgets, and attempted to balance the country through government led programmes. The more they did this, the larger the gap got, with London especially powering itself to ever higher levels of growth, wealth and income. The north-south divide existed when Labour came to power, but grew much worse whilst they were in power.
Labour attempted to cover this over by extending benefits to more and more people to augment their incomes from the state, and by creating more public sector jobs in its heartland northern areas. Whilst some individuals and families benefitted from this state intervention, the inequalities got bigger. The private sector led southern economy just kept outperforming the state led economies of the northern cities in receipt of special programmes.
The economy did create numerous private sector jobs up to the Credit Crunch crash in 2008, but these did not go to unemployed people in northern towns and cities sufficiently to make a positive difference.
Today the Coalition government, like the Labour government before it, says these inequalities are too big and something should be done about them. The government envisages a private sector and manufacturing led recovery, with many more new jobs being created in the great northern cities. Last week we were told that a new High Speed train to Birmingham and Leeds would be central to this vision.
When you look at the small print you discover that the new train will not be running this decade. Work will not start on the line until after 2015, if all goes well with the project from here. We can’t afford to wait that long to make inroads into the northern unemployment problem.
I was sent a document recently showing deprivation and unemployment by area, coloured onto a map of the UK. The highlighted areas of low incomes and high joblessness fit well with a political map showing Labour’s seats. Our politics is not healthy where one party represents most of the low income areas, and the other two parties represent the more successful areas. It encourages a Labour mentality that spending more in the public sector is the only answer, despite the evidence of the last decade that it did not reverse the growing gap or create enough jobs to solve the problem.
I have written often before of the policies that are needed to foster a faster and wider private sector recovery that spreads to the northern cities as well as to EC1. We do need to spend enough on good quality schools and Colleges, and take what action we can to enable children who cannot go to independent schools to compete successfully with those who can. We need to cut taxes and control the costs of regulation, so business has a better chance of taking root. We need a pro business approach to planning and transport. What is remarkable about central London is the energy and vitality, the round the clock provision of services by a host of competing small businesses jostling alongside global corporations and brands.