Grant Shapps promises North will play 'critical role' in recovery from virus lockdown

Ministers have pledged that the North will play a "critical role in driving this country’s recovery" from the coronavirus lockdown as they aimed to reassure business leaders that Boris Johnson's 'levelling-up' agenda had not been cast aside during the current crisis.

By Rob Parsons
Friday, 17th April 2020, 5:45 am
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday led an online meeting with major northern businesses such as Siemens, Hitachi and Bruntwood to hear what the region needs to cope with the effects of Covid-19.

Coming to the meeting straight after Cabinet, where the country's economic recovery was high on the agenda, he told business leaders that this must be led by the North.

One senior Yorkshire business figure who attended the meeting said Ministers were still talking about Boris Johnson's 'levelling-up' agenda to boost the northern economy, despite fears it would be sidelined during efforts to tackle the pandemic.

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Edel Christie, the Leeds-based UK Managing Director for Buildings at consultancy firm Arcadis, said the passion for boosting the northern economy was evident during the meeting but that it was "difficult to feel that today" with many firms not having enough money to pay staff.

"The challenge is seeing and feeling that when we're still in this maelstrom of many micro, small businesses fighting for their survival through Covid-19, trying to get access to the grants and the funding and that proving really quite difficult.

"The intent is clearly there and you can see it on the large scale but you've also got to look at the whole ecosystem of society and really say right now, it's still not feeling like that for the micro, small, medium enterprises that still haven't got access to those loans, that the job retention scheme payments aren't through yet, and that's real today."

As well as Mr Shapps, who holds the Northern Powerhouse brief in Boris Johnson's Cabinet, Transport Ministers Andrew Stephenson and Baroness Vere were on the call along with Local Government Minister Simon Clarke and Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

Businesses included Addleshaw Goddard, Manchester Airport Group, Arcadis, Siemens, Hitachi, AO, TalkTalk, Mace and Bruntwood.

During the meeting Mr Shapps stressed the need for the North to have a world-class transport network and said he was not happy with the progress of the Manchester-Leeds high speed rail route.

Mr Clarke said the northern growth body first announced by Boris Johnson at a conference in Rotherham in September was an essential part of the recovery and that the promised devolution White Paper setting out the Government's strategy would go ahead as planned.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership which represents northern business and civic leaders, said: “For Secretary of State Grant Shapps and four of his ministerial colleagues to join a virtual meeting with us today shows that government are listening to Northern businesses on how they are dealing with the ongoing Covid 19 crisis, and crucially how the Northern Powerhouse can play a leading part of the UK’s economic recovery.

“Establishing a Northern growth body, as committed to by the Prime Minister in Rotherham last year, is an essential part of taking the Northern Powerhouse to the next level, and I look forward to working closely with government and our business leaders on making that a reality."

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Mr Shapps said: “Yorkshire and the Northern Powerhouse will play a critical role in driving this country’s recovery, with international investment, new jobs and economic growth.”