Listen to us! Newsrooms unite to tell politicians: It’s time to pay attention to the North

Behind Local News
Jun 9 · 6 min read

Newsrooms across the North have joined forces to send a powerful message to Westminster’s politicians: Stop ignoring our readers.

A year after publishers from across the North united to demand action over the region’s railways, editors from more than 30 titles have set their sights on a wider set of problems.

Under the banner ‘power up the North’, titles are sharing an open letter to London politicians, timed to coincide with the formal start of Conservative Party leadership voting, which will determine who the next prime minister is.

However, editors have been keen to stress that their demands apply as much to opposition parties as they do to the Conservatives, and hope politicians from all parties will respond to their call for action.

The letter states: “At a time of unprecedented political uncertainty, we are calling on the main parties — and those who aspire to lead them — to spell out what they intend to do, and how they will work with others, to narrow the North-South divide.

“With nominations closing today in the Tory party contest to succeed Theresa May — and with every likelihood of a general election being called in the near future in an attempt to break the Parliamentary paralysis — every day of dither and delay risks leaving the North at an even greater disadvantage.

“Politics can’t stay in limbo like this. Decisions need to be made and new infrastructure built so this region can attract national and international investment.

There must be a new commitment by all parties to put this region first and start reversing decades of under-investment in key services.

“And in the wake of a succession of critical reports and interventions by well-respected policy-makers and political grandees, we’re calling on each party — and leadership nominee in the Tory party’ case — to give formal backing to the Northern Powerhouse policy agenda.”

Key demands from the publications include:

  • put full weight behind a bespoke Industrial Strategy for the North of England to enable every sector of the economy, from manufacturing to farming, to flourish;
  • overhaul the region’s road and rail network as a part of a wider environmental plan, with devolved funding and powers;
  • undertake to make Northern Powerhouse Rail a national priority;
  • deliver a fundamental shift in decision-making out of London, giving devolved powers and self-determination to people in the North
  • make additional investment available for the North’s schools, colleges and universities to boost skills training;
  • set out a programme to build a new generation of social housing, and affordable homes;
  • accelerate investment in the North’s digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, and support creative industries.
  • commit that the Government’s ‘shared prosperity fund’, intended to replace EU structural funding, be fully devolved in long-term tranches to enable strategic decisions to be taken here rather than areas having to bid — piecemeal — for small amounts.

The titles add: “We also hope the next PM — and future leaders — to elevate the post of Northern Powerhouse Minister to Cabinet status, with full powers, as a clear signal that they intend to take this region seriously.

“Though not exhaustive, this plan is in addition to each party explaining, clearly and candidly, their approach to Brexit, HS2 and key public services, like the NHS, social care, education and policing, which all matter to the 15 million people who live and work here.”

Said James Mitchinson, editor of The Yorkshire Post: ‘I am proud to be one of the regional editors that will one day — I believe — be held up as determined individuals that made a difference to the lives of those who live in the north of England.

‘Quite simply, not enough is being done to improve the lives of the people represented by the media brands that have joined forces to once again state: we are here for our readers; we want a fair deal for our regions and together we can and will ensure the people of the North are fully informed about the way they are being treated.

‘The next Prime Minister absolutely must sign a contract with the North — delivering new powers and more investment — that reassures all of us that we are being taken seriously. Any whiff of disingenuity will no longer be tolerated by the 15 million northerners who are sick and tired of being short changed.’

As well as being home to 15 million people, the North — generally split up in Government circles into the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and Humberside — employs a quarter of England’s workforce (7.2 million people); is the UK’s largest manufacturing region and generates a reputed £343bn a year — sufficient to make it Europe’s ninth largest economy were the North to be a country.

Darren Thwaites, editor in chief of the Manchester Evening News, said: “Over successive governments, the North has been given neither the funding nor the powers to reach its full economic potential. Policy continues to centralise funding and decision-making in London and the South East, while neglecting a Northern population of over 15m people.

“Now regional media brands, collectively reaching millions of people every day, have come together to say enough is enough. Politicians must do more than pay lip service to the Northern agenda. We intend this to become a key battleground in all our constituencies at the next General Election.”

The OneNorth campaign last year brought newsrooms from across the North together to demand urgent action over the North’s railways. New timetables had resulted in thousands of trains being cancelled, and many more operating with reduced carriages or shorter routes, affecting tens of thousands every day.

The campaign brought the challenges Northern commuters face daily to national attention, and propelled the immediate fiasco at Northern Rail to the top of the UK’s news agenda.

The Government launched a review into the chaos, and the issue of Northern railways — in many areas still relying on trains which should have been retired 20 years ago — has remained a political hot potato since.

Publications involved include: The Yorkshire Post, YEP, The Star (Sheffield), The Scarborough News, Harrogate Advertiser, Wakefield Express, Halifax Courier, Dewsbury Reporter Series, Lancashire Post, Blackpool Gazette, Wigan Post, Manchester Evening News, Huddersfield Examiner, LeedsLive, LancsLive, The Journal,Liverpool Echo,Hull Daily Mail, The Chronicle (Newcastle), The Gazette (Teesside), Northern Echo, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, York Press, Craven Herald, Ilkley Gazette, Keighley News, Wharfedale Gazette, The Mail (Barrow), News and Star (Carlisle), Whitehaven News, Times and Star (Workington), The Westmorland Gazette, Hexham Courant and The Cumberland News.

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