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The Government's Equivocation On The Northern Powerhouse Must End

05/09/2017 11:56 BST | Updated 05/09/2017 11:56 BST

"Oh my god - your accent is so strong! Say that again - I can't even understand some of the words you're speaking you're so northern! That's so funny!"

In the first few weeks of my first year at university, I heard this exclamation from my new friends from London and the South East often. "Where are you from, Jai?" they'd ask, as we sipped Fosters around the kitchen table in Fresher's Week. "Err... you probably won't have heard of it - Grimsby Town.""GRIMS-BEH! Say that again! GRIMS-BEH!!"

The mimicry was as tiresome as you can imagine, and even more perplexing given I attended university in Yorkshire - a region so synonymous with its own distinct accent I was surprised that so many of my new acquaintances found my own Humberside twang so surprising. Had they not expected to encounter northern accents in the North after all?

Thankfully, as the years wore on the novelty quickly wore off - but I was reminded of this strange microcosm of North-South condescension a few weeks ago when transport secretary Chris Grayling caused justified outrage when he authored a leading article in the Yorkshire Post, haughtily claiming that "the success of northern transport depends on the north itself", as he argued for the north to take the reins in building stronger transport services in the region.

The provocative article came a mere month after Grayling had reversed the pledge to electrify the rail line between Manchester and Leeds, despite successive governments' insistence that electrifying the line was a key driver behind building the Northern Powerhouse. To rub salt into the wound, a few days later Grayling declared his support for Crossrail 2, a new commuter rail line running north-south across London. It will cost reportedly over £30bn to deliver - the sum of which could be redirected to much-needed transport infrastructure investment outside of the capital. A report released by IPPR North earlier this year showed London receives £1,940 spending per head for transport - depressingly the North East gets just £220 per head.

Sadly, prevarication on the Northern Powerhouse is nothing new. Once proudly declared as a flagship proposal by the Cameron-Clegg coalition as an indicator the government was beginning to consider much-needed decentralisation measures, the nebulous concept has been pushed further and further down the government's agenda - a reminder of the demeaning stance London and the South-East takes toward the northern cities.

In reality, the north needs urgent investment, not just in transport but elsewhere too. Paul Swinney, Principal Economist at the Centre for Cities, identifies a lack of skills in northern cities as holding back the potential of the region, whilst an IPPR North report from last year identified that children in the North of England are at an educational disadvantage to peers in London and the South East even before they reach school age. Even in the oft-neglected and beleaguered realm of culture, gallery and museum closures across the north as a result of cut-off local council funding are stifling the region, all whilst London basks in the glow of its reputation as a global cultural centre and enjoys unrestricted arts funding.

The government's addiction to pandering to the needs of the capital alone have to end. The vote to leave the EU was driven significantly by despondent and disaffected voices in the northern neglected regions - until the capital begins to take this disparity seriously and the government begins to fund and legislate in the national interest, this inequality will continue to persist.

This week, the government has been understandably preoccupied by Brexit negotiations. In this era of uncertainty, a properly-funded stimulation of the northern cities should be the starting point to give Britain a new industrial strategy that works for everyone, rather than the few. The Northern Powerhouse can be a real thing - but it needs investment from the government to get going.

Until the government stops patronizing the idea of a Northern Powerhouse and continues to kick it into the long grass, the UK will remain divided. Give the North the funding it deserves, and it may not just seem a novel concept any longer. Neither might the accents.