Andy Burnham: Government has 'no genuine intention' of levelling up the North

21 November 2020, 15:17

File photo: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside Bridgewater Hall
File photo: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaking to the media outside Bridgewater Hall. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The Government has "no genuine intention" of levelling up the North with its London-centric approach to running the country, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has said.

The Labour and Co-operative Mayor said long-term infrastructure projects alone will not do the job, as he called for "much more substantial devolution" to shift power away from Westminster.

During his speech at Saturday's virtual Co-operative Party conference, Mr Burnham labelled the Government's response on the pandemic as "very poor", adding that measures should have been more localised.

Read more: Burnham raises questions over timing of Chancellor's Tier 2 support package

The Mayor has been dubbed "King of the North" for his demands to Government for greater funding to cope with stringent coronavirus restrictions the region had been placed under.

Mr Burnham said: "Countries that have more balanced governments between the national, regional and local level I think have mounted a better response to this pandemic, but here when they should have localised, our Government instead centralised and privatised.

"It hasn't joined the dots on the ground.

"We have had call centres, at great public expense, trying to do contact tracing, ringing the same people in the same house multiple times.

"This really needs to be addressed in our response going forward from here and I think the left needs to address this question because the left of politics in our country is too centralising as well.

"I think we now need to embrace a completely different way of running things, and that of course is much more substantial devolution to all parts of England, as well as the three nations too.

"Centralised government that we have had for centuries has created a very divided country."

He continued: "So when you vest all political power in one postcode - SW1A 0AA - don't be surprised that that political power is used more for the benefit of the region it is in, rather than all regions equally.

"The other thing about centralisation is I think it does lead to privatisation because then when the Government seeks to let contracts it immediately turns to those big corporate entities at a national level.

"I think if you look back over time, the amount of public money that has been wasted in outsourced contracts that have paid handsome profits to those organisations, often for poor delivery, I think we have got to, at some point say, surely this is not the way to do things.

"I think devolution of power to the English regions could be the single-biggest thing that would take the co-operative movement from where it is today to an entirely new level, because if budgets were in the hands of regions and local authorities making their own decisions on a whole range of things I think it is pretty certain there would be far greater commissioning of people in the not-for-profit and in the community and co-operative sector.

"I just hope that the scandals we have seen this year, in terms of public money being thrown at organisations that have siphoned so much out and then not delivered for the country, has exposed more clearly than ever how our centralised London-centric approach to running the country just simply does not work for everywhere.

"We have seen how the Government continues to want to treat large parts of the North: putting us under restrictions without giving us the funding to deal with the economic consequences.

"How much longer are we going to put up with this? Isn't it time actually that the left became the voice of devolution and the voice of levelling up?

"We are getting false claims to do all this from the Government.

"I don't believe they have got any genuine intention to level-up the North, and even if they have you can't do it by long-term infrastructure projects alone.

"You level-up the North by investing in people, by investing in communities and then building up from there - keeping the wealth in those communities and recycling it for the benefit for everyone."