A study by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank lays out how devolution and giving more powers to Metro Mayors could deliver benefits across the region
Boosting links from Northern commuter towns to big cities nearby would fire-up Boris Johnson’s flagship levelling-up plan, a study says today.
Many residents travel from Red Wall towns to major cities for work – and improving connections would make it easier for more people to earn the higher wages on offer, according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
Its latest report, which outlines how “towns are helped not hindered by links to nearby cities”, comes after it was confirmed the Government’s Levelling-Up White Paper has been delayed until the New Year.
The NPP study found the average weekly wage for someone working full time in Bury, Greater Manchester was £532 in 2020 – above the £491 earned by workers in nearby Rochdale but significantly below the £600 per week earned by those working in Manchester.
Yet full-time workers who live but do not necessarily work in Bury earn an average of £591 per week compared with £509 for residents of Rochdale and £538 for residents of central Manchester.
Analysts suggest it shows some Bury residents are commuting out of the town – in many cases to central Manchester and its higher-paid jobs.
The study cites the Metrolink tram connecting Bury and Manchester as a key driver of people’s ability to travel for better-paid employment.
Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, who will be at this morning’s report launch, said: “What this report shows is that places like Bury are centres of vibrant economic and cultural life in their own right, and it benefits us all if they thrive alongside our cities.
“But that won’t happen if we don’t have the infrastructure to connect people to skills, good jobs, and new opportunities where they live.
“If the levelling-up agenda is to succeed, it has to recognise that our towns and cities shouldn’t be forced to compete with each other – they should be supported to grow together.
“That means sustained investment, and giving local areas more of a say in driving that growth.”
The report says that since the 2019 election, political discussions have focused on “short-term, superficial changes” to “left-behind” towns that address problems in isolation – rather than in the context of wider city regions.
The authors urge ministers to bolster devolution to Metro Mayors, so they can pump cash into transport infrastructure, education and skills.
Jessica Bowles, head of strategy at property firm Bruntwood, believed there was “almost limitless potential in our towns waiting to be unlocked”.
She said: “Levelling-up means just as much of a focus on our left behind towns as it does our city centres.
“It will only be through harnessing their combined strengths that we can reduce regional inequalities.
“It will mean pooling towns’ existing strengths with each other, building on them, and then better linking them with neighbouring cities.
“The communities within our towns have a bigger role to play in their futures too.
“People’s pride and desire to see their towns thrive is a powerful tool that can be leveraged by strong local leadership.
“This report provides a vitally needed blueprint towards realising this vision.”
The Tories’ commitment to the North was condemned last month after the Government axed the eastern leg of the HS2 high speed line.
It also downgraded Northern Powerhouse Rail, also known as HS3, to connect the North’s six big cities – Newcastle, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool and Manchester Airport.
Former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, Lancs, said: “If levelling-up is going to mean something to people in northern towns and cities, we need to be tackling the £7,000 North-South divide in incomes by creating higher-paid jobs for people here.
“Devolution – stretching from Cumbria all the way to North Yorkshire – could be a game changer for towns like Workington and Scarborough.”