Lisa Nandy has outlined Labour’s offer to the region, saying her party in power would invest £280bn over a decade to close the North/South divide.

To address the cost of living crisis, the Wigan MP said Labour would uprate benefits, cut VAT on energy bills, scrap leasehold charges and “put rocket boosters” under the home insulation programme to cut bills.

The shadow levelling up secretary also said in office she would “end the Hunger Games-style grants” that force local authorities to compete for small pots of cash and instead give leaders the tools to have “financial autonomy”.

Read more: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss reveal pitch to the North East

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Her commitment came after newspapers across the North, including The Northern Echo, united to warn Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, former Chancellor and Foreign Secretary not to "turn their back" on the region once in Downing Street.

It followed reports that the levelling up agenda, which was a key promise at the 2019 general election, could be shelved after Boris Johnson's departure.

Read more: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Don't turn your back on the North

The candidates, along with Ms Nandy, were invited to answer five key questions facing our region by the Northern Agenda this week. 

It comes as Mr Sunak and Ms Truss prepare to debate each other at a regional hustings in Leeds, one of three events in the North to help Tory members decide who they want to back as the next Prime Minister.

All three politicians acknowledged the issues, whether child poverty or low productivity, but there was a varying level of detail when explaining how they would be addressed. 

Here's what Ms Nandy had to say in his response to the five questions.

1. What will you do to make sure the commitments made to the North are kept?

The only way to tackle soaring inflation is to get the economy growing again. This is why the promises to the North must be kept. Because when you refuse to invest in most parts of the country you write off the assets, talent and contribution that we need. The fact that Britain is one of the most geographically unequal countries in the world has been treated as a local or regional problem for too long. But it isn’t – it’s a national problem.

Britain is almost unique in trying to power a modern economy using a handful of people in a handful of sectors in one small part of the country.

In Labour we understand that this is a major factor that holds the whole country back.

We need to rebalance our economy, not just to benefit the North where we’ve been starved of investment and government backing for too long, but so that London and the South East aren’t blighted by poor housing and soaring inequality as well.

That is why Labour will invest £28bn a year every year for a decade to bring good, well-paid jobs back to our coastal and industrial towns. There are a million jobs on the road to net zero and we will invest to bring them here.

We will reinvigorate high streets by freezing and reforming business rates and getting money back into people’s pockets so they can spend locally again. And we will smash up a century of centralisation, handing powers over skills, transport and housing to communities and local leaders so they can do what works for them.

For me, this is personal. It’s about my family, friends and constituents in Wigan and many others across the North. For too long our town and so many places like it – places that built this country – have been written off and told we don’t have a contribution to make.

But we do. The next Labour government will hand over powers and resources so we can make that contribution again.

2. The average worker in the North is 50% less productive than one in London, what will you do to address this widening gap?

The productivity picture is far more mixed than this. The North is home to some very high areas of productivity and it varies across particular sectors. For example in the Liverpool City Region, productivity is 20 per cent above average in manufacturing.

We should be careful not to talk down the contribution we already make and, as Steve Fothergill at Sheffield Hallam University has warned, we should reject a one size fits all approach to fixing it.

That is why handing power to local areas is a central part of the solution. The Regional Development Agencies, scrapped by the Tories were instrumental in building the growing wind industry in Grimsby and the world leading Advanced Manufacturing centre in Rotherham.

That is because they saw the assets and the potential in a coastal town that is one of the windiest in Europe and in a part of Yorkshire that had a strong legacy of skills from the steel industry that made it ideal for the jobs of the future.

By contrast the Tories genuinely seem to believe only two regions of the country – London and the South East have a contribution to make, hence the lack of any new money or powers in the Levelling Up plans published earlier this year.

This is how you get a Prime Minister who can scrap every levelling up promise – Northern Powerhouse Rail, the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds, and bus funding, which was cut in half.

On his watch the gap in public spending between London and the North has doubled and instead of keeping the promise to match EU funding for our regions they have cut it by 34% in the North.

All we’ve had are small grants – part refunds on the money they’ve taken from us – handed out from Whitehall. This is because fundamentally they don’t believe we have a contribution to make. They are wrong.

3.What will you do to address spiralling rates of child poverty in parts of Northern England? 

It is a scandal that in a country as rich as the UK, nearly two in five children in the North East are living below the poverty line. It is not inevitable. The last Labour Government lifted a million children out of poverty – all those gains were undone in the first few years of a Tory Government.

We have to act now to ease the pain and pressure on families. We would bring forward the uprating of benefits, as it is now lagging way behind soaring inflation, cut VAT on energy bills, scrap leasehold charges and put rocket boosters under home insulation programme to cut bills for most houses for good to the tune of at least £400 a year.

We need to think long term too. Many children in the north spent longer out of school during the pandemic than children elsewhere, because of the way decisions to take us out of lockdown were made.

That’s why Labour has set out a Children’s Recovery Plan to ensure our children have the backing they need to catch up. As part of the plan we would extend free school meals over the holiday as a cash transfer, to support families this summer.

Child poverty isn’t just years in the making, it’s generations in the making. So much of the North is still dealing with the legacy of the Thatcher years. That’s why, in addition to these immediate measures, we would invest to bring good, secure, well-paid jobs back to places that have seen them disappear.

The last Labour government lifted a million children out of poverty by growing the economy. 70% of children who are in poverty today are in households with at least one parent working. Those parents need a pay rise.

We need to get money back into families’ pockets, and you can only do that by investing to build a high- wage, high-growth economy.

4. How far will you go to give Northern leaders control over education and skills, transport and health budgets currently held by Westminster, and will you give them more powers to raise or lower taxes to boost local economies? 

We will replace the system that forces our northern mayors and council leaders to go cap in hand to Whitehall for small grants and permissions to do the things we know will work for us.

Instead of giving a few limited powers to places that accept a mayor, we will work with our northern leaders and communities so devolution reflects our identity, economic geography and the wishes of local people. It can’t be right that when most people in Yorkshire wanted a One Yorkshire deal, a junior minister in Whitehall could just say no.

Those powers – over transport, skills, housing, energy and raising revenue – will be on offer to all communities not just some. People deserve decent services wherever they are, not just in places that the Chancellor deems “functional” or where he likes the look of the leaders we’ve elected.

Finally, we will end the Hunger Games-style grants that force us to compete for small pots of our money and give communities the powers and resources to buy vital local assets when they come up for sale – like historic buildings, football clubs and live music venues.

This is the first step towards financial autonomy for communities, creating revenue to be used and passed down through the generations and protecting us from a Tory Chancellor who promises to level up one day and govern like Thatcher the next.

5. Will you retain a government department responsible for tackling regional inequalities with a Cabinet-level Minister for whom this is their main job?

A seat at the Cabinet table is essential and I will make it my mission to deliver for the North -and by doing so for the whole of Britain – in Government.

What is more important is that Keir Starmer will too. He has made clear that getting the economy growing again by tackling geographical inequality will be one of the defining missions of the next Labour government.

While the last Levelling Up secretary couldn’t find backing from No. 10 or the Treasury, we are working as a team to set out a different future for Britain.

We know that change cannot be driven from Whitehall. But we will do our bit – investing in the North, putting communities in the driving seat, so that we can rebuild Britain from the ground up the only way we can - together.

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