‘Devolution would be good for York – and so would Brexit’: Northern Powerhouse minister

Studied in York and still has family here: James Wharton MP
15 Mar 2016 @ 8.10 pm
| Business, News

The man tasked by David Cameron with delivering the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has said it offers big opportunities for York.

But James Wharton also urged Yorkshire to get on and agree a deal on devolution so the project could move forward.

Breakfast with James Wharton

The Park Inn, North Street, York

Friday, Mar 18 @ 8.30am-10.30am


Full details

Mr Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, is coming to talk to York businesses about the Northern Powerhouse on Friday (March 18).

Ahead of that event he spoke to YorkMix about the project’s impact on York.

It is a city he knows well. He went to St Peter’s School, his grandparents still live on Tadcaster Road, and the solicitor also studied at York College of Law.

And he is convinced that the concept of the Northern Powerhouse could be as good for York as its far bigger neighbours like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

“I’ve been very clear that I wanted it to be something that works not just for the metropolitan areas – Great Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, places like that – but the counties should count to,” Mr Wharton said.

“That includes our small towns and all the communities across the North of England.

“Both the Northern Powerhouse’s opportunity and its challenge is to ensure it is flexible enough to meet those different needs and get the best from that economic potential.”

York a ‘growing and exciting place’

Tourists in York
Tourists in York

What are the challenges and opportunities for York from the Northern Powerhouse? And isn’t Yorkshire just too varied to work as an economic unit? Questions we put to Mr Wharton…

How might the Northern Powerhouse boost York specifically?

There may be particular interest in tourism in York, because it’s somewhere that people want to visit. What can be done to give more control locally to promote it appropriately, and improve that aspect of its economy? But that’s just one hypothetical example. It’s for the people of York to decide.

What do you judge to be York’s particular strengths?

There’s clearly a significant visitor economy in York, and a successful one. We need to build on that and look what we can do to enhance that.

There is clearly a significant expansion in York – we need to ensure that’s done in the right way. We need to meet people’s housing needs in a way that’s sympathetic, both to the historic nature of the city but also to the surrounding rural environment.

And there are also quite a lot of businesses in York doing quite exciting things. York is not just about tourism, not just about being a tourist destination.

I think York is a successful, growing and exciting place – but it’s not for me to tell it where it should go next and what it should prioritise.

What are the challenges?

In York, one of the key things I would like to see resolved is getting a devolution deal for Yorkshire on the table and agreed. We need to iron out the areas of disagreement, we need to reach a conclusion to devolve powers down to Yorkshire – to geography that people can support, to a package of powers that people can support.

I would like that to include a directly elected mayor, but I’d like the business community and the private sector in particular to be leading that argument, to be making that case.

Isn’t Yorkshire too diverse to be a single political and economic unit?

There’ll always be different needs in different parts of any economy. But the reality is I think Yorkshire has an incredibly powerful brand. People across the world recognise Yorkshire as a concept, and they’re also very positive towards it.

It’s not just a great place that is known to those of us who’ve lived there, it’s actually known the world over. That’s a huge opportunity.

There’s billions being spent on London transport projects – where’s our share?

London does need significant investment. It is a very crowded, global city that contributes a huge amount to our national economy.

But you’re right to point out that there are challenges elsewhere, needs elsewhere, including the north of England, including around York where there are particular projects people might want to see pursued. What the government has done is establish Transport For The North. For the first time a strategic decisions on infrastructure and investment, on the priorities for funding, will be taken not in Whitehall but by people in the North of England.

What will Brexit mean for York and the Northern Powerhouse?

In the long term I think the UK’s best chance of success in the future is to look out towards the world rather than just in towards the EU. Since 1980 the share of world GDP represented by the economies that make up the EU has halved. All the signs are that that trend will continue.

I think we need to trade with Europe, we need to be close partners with the European Union. But I think we should have the freedom to look beyond those shores and to be more ambitious and trade with the world as a whole.