The squeezed middle? The East Midlands responds

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

image copyrightPA
image captionEast Midlands Councils fear the region's infrastructure may be overlooked for funding

The East Midlands is at risk of being squeezed economically by the growing influence of the northern cities, according to one of our top council leaders.

Jon Collins warns that government cash for future road and rail projects could easily bypass our region, because of the political clout of the so-called "northern powerhouse" and London.

He's the leader of Nottingham City Council and chairman of East Midlands Councils, the lobby group that speaks up for the region's local government.

The Labour leader's been briefing the East Midlands' business community on any future devolution deal for England. But it's the repercussions of a political powerhouse on the northern horizon that worries him.

"I don't think we are losing out yet, but I do think there's a risk that growth is seen to be centred around London and the south east and an emerging northern powerhouse around the northern cities," he told me.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn the budget, the Chancellor emphasised the importance of rail and road links to the north

And that matters when it comes to future government funding for infrastructure. In the last Budget, the Chancellor George Osborne talked up the importance of reviving the northern cities by improving road and rail connections.

"We need to have the same negotiations about rail infrastructure that the northern powerhouse is having," added Mr Collins.

"And to be having the same conversations with both Network Rail and the Highways Agency to make sure that when future funding decisions are being made, we get our fair share."

In Derbyshire, local government's already responded to the influence of the "northern powerhouse" by merging into a so-called combined authority.

It'll get funding devolved from Whitehall for transport, housing and job programmes. Councils in Nottinghamshire are following suit.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWill the midlands be able to enjoy similar investment to that of the north?

"The application's gone in and we are looking to a timetable of having it up and running within a year," Mr Collins said.

Negotiations on the details start after the general election. But will that change to a combined authority be enough to muscle in on our friends in the north?

"We in the Midlands are the manufacturing powerhouse of the country and a driver of the national manufacturing economy," he added.

"We need to be clear that the 'ask' we make to the government is heard long and loud."

Whatever the outcome of this General Election, listen out for the voice of the Midlands - East and West. It's about to turn up the volume.

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