Today Alex Sobel moved a White Paper in Leeds City Council – on the North/South divide and its impact on Leeds.
A personal story – of his own family’s experience of that divide.
A Leeds story – of the attack on Leeds’ budget.
A Northern story – of the growing inequalities within England.
He highlighted the growing inequalities – in housing, job opportunities, and the deliberate LibDem/Tory Coalition favouring of southern spending and southern councils over the North.
He emphasized the need for infrastructural spending, and Labour’s proposals for Regional banks, committed to investment in their own areas.
Leeds is now under threat as never before from a Coalition which has slashed the City’s budget while feather-bedding its southern strongholds.
The full speech is below.
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“I would like to thank my colleagues in the Labour group for this opportunity as a backbench councillor to put forward this motion. This motion is a subject which is as much personal as political.
Of course everybody here lives in the North and in the greatest City in the North. Whether by choice or by birth we are all northern.
My experience is as personal as anybody’s. My story of the north/south divide starts in 1980s Yorrkshire, the last time the Conservatives were in office. My family left Leeds and moved to Sheffield. In Sheffield our entire neighbourhood felt the impact of the North/South divide, with Steelworkers losing their jobs, my mum losing hers in 1983, and with my dad never settling into a long term job. After my mum lost her job, the only work she could find was in Beaconsfield and we moved down South.
The difference between Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire taught me about disparities of wealth and it is this that made me Labour.
In every area inequalities between North and South rise: in health, transport, education – which my colleagues will talk about in depth – but also local authority funding, infrastructure, access to finance and the arts. It always come back to one area – money and the fact that the South always gets a better settlement.
I would like to start with access to finance, and unusually for me I would like to quote Nick Clegg
‘small businesses can still face barriers when borrowing the money they need. This is compounded by a dearth of lenders outside of London and the south-east, once again accentuating the north-south divide.’
Clegg’s solution is a British Business Bank. Ok, but let’s look what it has lent – £346 million in London and £230 million in the South East, but just £151 million in Yorkshire and £64 million in the North East. I kid you not! I got this from a Government press release from the 22nd December, trumpeting how the coalition will sort out the North-South divide– a Christmas omnishambles!
So I am sure you are all keen to know what a Labour government would do about this.
Well, Ed Miliband has been very clear “we don’t just need a single Investment Bank serving the country. We need a regional banking system, serving each and every region of the country.
“Regional banks, with a mission to serve that region and that region alone.”
So no more London based banks making decisions about lending in the North.
However infrastructure spending is not only insufficient but also imbalanced.
– In the Government’s 2013 infrastructure plan £30 billion earmarked for the Southern Regions
– a massive £36 billion just for London
– and just £13 billion for the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
That well known left wing journal the Spectator muses
‘You wonder if spending £64 billion in southern England but only £23 billion in the rest of England quite gets the balance right.’
Unlike the Spectator I don’t wonder, I know.
It is clearly unjust that so much spending on roads, energy generation, fast broadband and all the other infrastructure we need goes on in the South to the exclusion of the North.
I cannot move on from infrastructure without mentioning the missed opportunity of electrification of the Harrogate Line.
– We were promised the electrification in August 2013 by the current MP for Leeds North West
– and when the announcements by Nick Clegg for infrastructure spending came, we got a tunnel under Stonehenge but no mention of electrification of a line vital for the economic regeneration of the North!
What are the results of all this?
Well the clearest effects are on housing and employment. The gap between the average prices of property in London and the north-east grew to its widest in history. A home in London costs an average £514,000 compared to just £154,000 in the north-east of England.
– Creating a housing bubble
– -and meaning those with property in the south become ever more asset rich, whilst the assets of those in the north are nearly stagnant.
In employment things are just as stark
– Jobseekers in Cambridge find it 200 times easier to find work than those in Salford, where about 65 people chase each vacancy.
– Of the 10 best Cities to find a job, 9 were in the South and 1 in Scotland
– – whilst of the 10 worst cities 8 are in the North and 2 on the south coast.
I don’t need to quote Cllr Wakefield as we in the chamber know the figures all too well.
But for the public record ‘Leeds has to save £76m in 2015/16 and Leeds has already saved £248m since 2010’
Our spending power per head has fallen £59 in this settlement. – Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham have all lost over £100 per head in spending power.
– The authorities with the 10 biggest percentage cuts this settlement are all Labour-controlled and in the north and Midlands.
But let’s look further south.
– How is Conservative and Lib Dem controlled Mole valley in Surrey getting just a £4 cut per head?
– – sharing that thin slice, it’s not big enough to be described as a cut, with Hart, Mid Sussex, Horsham and East Dorset?
– in fact the 10 best settlements were in the South and all Conservative or Conservative-Lib Dem administrations.
So to remedy this inequality we need a fair settlement in access to finance, infrastructure, local government funding and many other areas.
As we are all Councillors for Leeds in the North of England, this motion should be uncontentious and have all our support. And on that basis, Lord Mayor, I have great pleasure in moving this motion.”