Features: January 22nd, 2013

The introduction of so-called ‘metro mayors’ across the North of England would help to close the north-south economic divide, according to a business lobby group.

London and its surrounding areas account for more than one third of the UK’s economic activity, yet the combined output of the major Northern cities provides just a fifth, while there are also major disparities in the levels of regeneration and research spend per person between the two areas.

This disparity is further highlighted when compared to other nations in the EU, where Germany has seven cities among the top 20 economic performing locations in Europe, while the Netherlands, Italy and Spain each have two; London is the UK’s sole representative.

Downtown in Business, which represents businesses in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool and works on behalf of more than 600 organisations across the North of England, is calling for a greater devolution of powers through elected regional mayors. It wants the mayors to have a similar role to Boris Johnson in London, to redress this balance and stimulate further economic development outside of the south east.

The organisation is backing a recent report by think tank IPPR, which recommended a redistribution of investment for transport and infrastructure projects to provide connectivity between the Northern regions and improve their international links.

Frank McKenna, chairman of Downtown In Business, said:“London is critical to the economic prosperity of the UK but if we are to achieve widespread UK economic growth, we fundamentally have to close the spending gap that so clearly exists between the Northern and Southern regions.

“Many northern cities have made huge progress in recent years but it is simply not good enough for London to spend £1,000 per head on economic development, whilst we spend half that figure. Similarly, the north invests just £37 per head on science and technology, compared to the £57 per head spent in the South East.

“If we look to the German model, where comparable regions such as Brandenberg, Sacksen and Thüringen have all managed to grow relative to the rest of the country, it becomes clear that we need a broader approach to economic development, both from central government and our banks.

“Significant change can only arrive through metro mayors with the mandate to drive infrastructure improvements that make it easier to cross the north, rather than the obsession with cutting journey times to London, while also recognising that in the 21st century we should be able to take a direct flight to places like Beijing, Shanghai and Delhi, without travelling to Heathrow first.”