Chancellor Philip Hammond has given his strongest backing yet to the Northern Powerhouse but stressed that devolution should be spread right across the UK.
In his first speech as chancellor at the Conservative conference he told delegates: 'I pledge today that the Treasury under my leadership will continue to drive the Northern Powerhouse project working in partnership with local leaders to see it delivers its potential for people in the north.'
Chancellor Philip Hammond
He added: 'But our ambition isn't limited to the Northern Powerhouse. We want to create the conditions for success in the North, the South and everywhere in between. And there is nowhere more ripe to benefit from a similar approach than the Midlands Engine.'
The chancellor outlined the second devolution deal with the West Midlands Combined Authority with powers on transport, criminal justice, data, planning and skills and said it and the Northern Powerhouse were 'two great projects that can be emulated across Britain.'
He said: 'We have passed a tipping point in devolution in this country. A decisive and irreversible shift in economic and political power and Britain's economy will be the better and the bigger for it.'
Berwick Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan told a fringe meeting afterwards: 'The chancellor said we're committed to the Northern Powerhouse and I feel much more convinced there is a genuine commitment.'
The chancellor, while backing more infrastructure spending on housing and regeneration and scrapping his predecessor's target for a budget surplus by 2020, warned however that the deficit was still 'unsustainable'.
He tempered this message by stating that ‘world class infrastructure is vital to maintaining our competitiveness’ and that he wanted to ensure ‘that it is long-term economics, not short-term politics, that drives Britain’s vital infrastructure investment’.
Contractors welcomed the chancellor’s statement that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will remain ‘at the very heart’ of Government infrastructure plans.
Mr Hammond said the NIC was set up to prioritise and plan, test value for money and ‘ensure that every penny spent on infrastructure is properly targeted to deliver maximum benefit’.
Marie-Claude Hemming, head of external affairs for the civil engineering contractors association, said: ‘The chancellor’s recognition that the delivery of world-class infrastructure will be vital to securing economic growth will be warmly received by industry.
‘The chancellor has announced that the NIC will be central to carefully targeted investment in high-value infrastructure. He has also said that he will pursue a new plan for the new circumstances Britain faces following the decision to leave the European Union.
‘This approach is to be applauded. Infrastructure investment and long-term pipeline visibility are drivers of growth in the wider economy.’