Belfast Telegraph

Northern Powerhouse 'all but cancelled' say Labour MPs

Labour MPs have said the Northern Powerhouse project has "all but been cancelled", with the Government's attention now focussed on the Midlands Engine.

Greater Manchester MPs Andy Burnham and Lucy Powell have demanded fresh focus on the Northern Powerhouse project, which Theresa May is reportedly less keen on than her predecessors at the helm of Government.

Ministers branded the claims "complete and utter nonsense" and said the Government was "as committed as ever" to the Northern Powerhouse, which aims to boost economic growth across the region.

Speaking during questions to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Mr Burnham, Labour's candidate to be mayor of Greater Manchester, said: "One can't help but notice that all the talk these days is of the Midlands Engine, and suddenly the Northern Powerhouse is about as popular on those benches as its originator, the Right Honourable Member for Tatton (George Osborne).

"While I'm not against investment in the midlands, can the Secretary of State give a cast iron guarantee that manifesto commitments to invest in the north, including HS3, will not be delayed or diluted by new commitments to the midlands?"

Mr Osborne was widely credited with leading the Northern Powerhouse project in Government.

The former chancellor previously said Mrs May had "a little bit of a wobble" over the project after becoming Prime Minister.

Responding to Mr Burnham, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: "I know he has significant ambitions, but he mustn't talk down the north at every opportunity he finds.

"He will know this Government is as committed as ever to the Northern Powerhouse, and that includes all our commitments around investment and growth."

But Ms Powell (Manchester Central) continued the pressure on the Government later in the debate.

She told MPs: "The Northern Powerhouse project has brought much needed investment, attention and cohesion to northern cities like mine of Manchester.

"So why is it that many of those key players involved in the Northern Powerhouse project, including former ministers, now feel like the programme has all but been cancelled?"

In response, Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy, said: "This is complete and utter nonsense.

"And I have to say, if honourable members opposite are really interested in the Northern Powerhouse, they should stop talking it down at every single opportunity and trashing it.

"We have delivered through the Northern Powerhouse a record number of enterprise zones, billions of pounds of investment in public transport projects across the north.

"I know from my 10 years as a local government councillor in the north, it's a lot more than the Labour government managed to do for the north during their time in power."

Mr Osborne has set up a new think tank to drive the Northern Powerhouse forward, while former Treasury minister Lord O'Neill - another key architect of the project - last month quit his Government post.