GEORGE Osborne has acknowledged for the first time a need to reach out to the North.
The Chancellor has said he wants an economic recovery which benefits the North and low-earners.
Writing for The Times, he said that as a result of the recession, “the North of England and the Midlands fell farther behind” an already economically-stronger London.
He added: “In the long term, Britain needs more good jobs in the private sector so that people who want to work hard and get on can earn more support from the Government.
“That’s particularly true in those regions that became too dependent on the public sector.”
His promise to ensure growth is not confined to the South East will be seen as a success for Neil O’Brien, the special advisor who came to him from the Policy Exchange think tank and tasked in part with making the party more sellable in the North.
Welcoming the move last night was David Skelton, who recently left the same think tank to launch a campaign group aimed at broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party to working people.
He told The Journal: “The Chancellor is right to point out that growth in recent decades has disproportionately benefited the South East and failed to narrow the North-South divide.
“Equally, growth in the Blair years meant boom time for a few at the top, with the benefits not reaching the low paid.”
Mr Skelton added: “Politically, it’s crucial that the Conservatives become associated with job creation in the North East given that, to many, the party is still associated with the after effects of unemployment and de-industrialisation. Tackling unemployment and taking measures to ensure a private sector-led economic renaissance would help them to do this.”
But former regional minister Nick Brown questioned the Chancellor’s commitment to the North East. The Labour Newcastle East MP said: “George Osborne’s pitch to the North misrepresents our main problem – the lack of private sector jobs. It contains not a single proposal of substance.
“His point about over-reliance on the City of London would carry more weight if he hadn’t closed down the North East’s own proposals, developed under the last Labour Government, for a regional venture capital fund.
“The North East’s priority should be to drive forward the creation of private sector jobs in the region. Job-creating projects should be the region’s number one priority. The Chancellor hasn’t grasped the direction we must travel, or the urgency of the situation.”
Businesses also raised issue with the Chancellor’s view of Government spreading wealth.
Ross Smith, policy director at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our members around the North East are delivering growth for the UK right now and it’s a bit patronising to give the impression this is something Government must provide for us.
“However, if the Chancellor is serious about maximising the output of all parts of the country, he and his Cabinet colleagues need to start doing some serious work on a series of policy approaches which have long been overly focused on the South East.”