FIVE years ago, with a general election less than 12 months away, Chancellor George Osborne used a key note speech at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester to drop two words that politicians and businesses in the region have clung on to in hope ever since - Northern Powerhouse.

As he announced a new high-speed rail connection, dubbed then as HS3 and now more commonly known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, he said the North would become the South’s “brother in arms”, as he unveiled a series of priorities to help boost the region’s economy and its future prospects.

But as the years have passed and countless ministers have taken on the Northern Powerhouse mantle, Osborne’s original Northern Powerhouse vision appears to be still exactly that – a vision.


At the time of his speech in June 2014, Mr Osborne said the North-East had the “fastest-growing economic activity” of anywhere in England, and alongside it was the region where people were joining the labour market at the fastest rate.

The Chancellor said: “Something remarkable has happened here in Manchester, and in Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle and other northern cities over these last thirty years too.

The Northern Echo:

“The once hollowed-out cities are thriving again, with growing universities, and huge improvements to the quality of life."

Fast forward to the present day, and the economic outlook is less secure. At the turn of the year, growth forecasts showed the North East is set to have the lowest growth in the country to 2021.

The region is also expected to see employment growth slow over the next three years, to 0.1 per cent, because of its dependence on both manufacturing and public sector employment. 4,800 jobs are expected to be created over the next three years – the lowest for the UK.

Think-tank IPPR North also revealed earlier this month the number of public sector workers in England has fallen by 824,000 since 2009. The figure in the North East has fallen by 24 per cent - while in London it is down by just nine per cent.


During his first Northern Powerhouse speech, Mr Osborne highlighted Nissan and Hitachi as examples as “massive investments” in the region where hundreds of jobs would be created.

Their success has been evident, with the car maker employing thousands of workers in Sunderland, and the train builder's creations in Newton Aycliffe already rolling out across the UK But, with Brexit uncertainty causing havoc, their futures are less certain.

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Nissan will soon cease production of its luxury Infiniti bran in Sunderland, and earlier this year, the firm were forced to described reports they would reduce the number of shifts on a production line making Qashqai and Leaf vehicles, putting 400 jobs at risk, as “rumour and speculation”.

Meanwhile, the Unite union warned earlier in the year that Hitachi was facing an “increasingly concerning” future when current orders for new trains run out next spring as there are currently no significant new orders in the pipeline.

Politicians have privately suggested their joint bid with Bombardier for the HS2 contract could be crucial ins securing their long-term future.

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As well as unveiling HS3, Mr Osborne said it was vital to provide the North will “modern transport connections they need” to create his Powerhouse.

He said: “Today, the transport network in the north is simply not fit for purpose – and certainly not good enough, if we want our cities to pool their strengths.

“I’ve committed £600m to the Northern Hub, which will cut journey times on trains between Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield.”

As the Echo highlighted the day after the speech, there was no mention of the North-East. His broader idea for HS3 was to improve road and rail links, so that cities from Hull to Liverpool can band together and make a bigger contribution to the British economy. His original plans did not include the likes of Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle or Darlington.

The Northern Echo:

Upgrades to the TransPennine route will now see Northern Powerhouse Rail pass through Darlington and Durham on its way to Newcastle, but with HS2 stopping at Leeds, the region won't receive the full benefits of the rail investment.

As for the roads, recently announced projects including a new Tees crossing have come from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, devolved powers that were in the pipeline before the Northern Powerhouse

There have also been concerns in recent weeks about whether infrastructure will cope around major new employment projects in the region, such as Darlington's new Amazon warehouse.

The Northern Echo:

Closing his speech, Mr Osborne said: "What I’ve set out is a vision of the Northern Powerhouse – not to rival the South, but to be its brother in arms as we fight for Britain’s share of the global economy. Let’s bring our Northern cities together, so they’re bigger and better than anyone can be alone.

The Northern Powerhouse can’t be built over-night. It’s a long-term plan for a country serious about its long-term economic future. It means jobs and prosperity and security for people here over future decades.

"I will work tirelessly with anyone across political divides in any of these great cities to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality."

It appears, five years on, the Northern Powerhouse is still some way off being a reality.