There was an interesting interview in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week with Nick Hewer, the former PR agency boss who is now best known for his stint as Sir Alan Sugar’s sidekick on The Apprentice. In the interview Hewer was sceptical about George Osborne’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse, describing Salford (where Hewer records Countdown) as “tough, grass is growing through the pavement”.
Also this week, it became clear that Liverpool’s bid for a Devo Manc style deal with Westminster seems to be dead in the water, largely due to in fighting among the Council leaders on Merseyside. Given that these deals to have public services in a city region run by an elected Mayor are a key component of the Northern Powerhouse plan, this is clearly not good news.
There is little doubt that the North South economic gap is a huge problem for a Government which sets great store on creating “One Nation”. Most economists estimate that a minimum of £50 billion is needed to create a more level playing field.
Transport, particularly railways, is one area in urgent need of attention. In my experience both the rail infrastructure and the actual train rolling stock in the North of England are simply not fit for purpose.
The recent £44m refurbishment of Manchester’s Victoria Station is a welcome step in the right direction, even if some wits have suggested that simply they made Victoria Posh. However, the much needed facelift for Liverpool Lime Street is not scheduled until 2017 at the earliest.
So, how do we solve the North South divide and make the Northern Powerhouse work? Perhaps Nick Hewer could have a word with his former colleague and ask Sir Alan to hand this task to his “apprentices”? On second thoughts, given the standard of contestants in the current series, maybe that isn’t such a good idea.