Osborne urges PM to focus on north-south divide

Secondary pupils in corridor

The former chancellor, George Osborne, has urged the prime minister to focus on poor education attainment in the north to boost British growth.

Mr Osborne said that the project he launched whilst he was still at the Treasury - the Northern Powerhouse - was still vital for the economy.

Concerns arose in 2017 that the project had been sidelined by Theresa May.

His comments come as a new report says there is a major education divide between the north and the south.

The study by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership says pupils in the North of England are on average one GCSE grade behind comparable pupils in the south.

It also reveals that one quarter of secondary schools in the north are judged by Ofsted to be inadequate or in need of improvement.

A lack of skills training is also holding back the region's economy, the report argues.

"In the work we have done consulting with businesses in the north, poor skills and inadequate training come across consistently as the major issues," Mr Osborne said in a foreword to the report by the Partnership, of which he is a board member.

"Too many children in the north aren't getting the education they need or deserve."

The report demands £300m in new funding for disadvantaged areas; reform of the Pupil Premium funding mechanism for children from low income families; a new Northern Powerhouse Schools Improvement Board and a commitment from local firms to provide 900,000 young people with "meaningful" work experience.

"I urge the government to play its part in implementing it," Mr Osborne said.

Mr Osborne, who is also the editor of the Evening Standard in London, has rarely spoken in public after he was sacked by Theresa May following the Brexit referendum.

There is known to be tension between the prime minister and him and it was reported earlier this year that Number 10 had "snubbed" the former chancellor by not offering him a peerage.

Mr Osborne has regularly used the pages of the Standard to attack the Prime Minister over her approach to the Brexit negotiations.

Image caption The Northern Powerhouse aims to encourage growth outside London and South East England

The government says it is fully focused on the Northern Powerhouse and recently appointed Jake Berry, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen, as the "Powerhouse Minister".

Mr Berry told the BBC that supporting the north was a long term project and that powers had been devolved to local mayors and money was being spent on schools and new transport links.

Lord O'Neill of Gatley, the former Treasury minister who was instrumental in setting up the Northern Powerhouse with Mr Osborne, told the BBC that although the Northern Powerhouse had dropped out of the "top five" government priorities, there did appear to be a fresh focus on the project.

"It's not as big," he admitted when I asked him if Theresa May placed as much emphasis on the Powerhouse as Mr Osborne had done.

"What I would say more encouragingly, it seems pretty clear to me that attention on the Northern Powerhouse has increased.

"If you go right back to the prime minister's first speech on the Downing Street steps it is very clear that she's sympathetic to the whole goal of doing something like the Northern Powerhouse."

'Local engine'

Lord O'Neill said that supporting the economy in the north was important for the whole of Britain.

"For the past couple of years the north west part of the Powerhouse has been outperforming the whole country and that outperformance is accelerating.

"If you look at the past 20 years around the world, over 60% of all economic growth is being driven by bigger urban places and the UK only has one in the world's top 50 - London.

"London is a huge contributor financially to the rest of the country - it's not really ultimately that good for London or the rest of the country if they're dependent on handouts from London.

"If you have your own local engine that is economically as powerful as London, you know it's a game changer for the nation."

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