The Westminster bubble and the neglect of Northern voices

Ignoring regional disparities will not help tackle our economic crisis, argues Dan Silver from One North West in this week’s Member Blog. 

Dan Silver from One North West

Last week I had an enjoyable and productive time in London, meeting with some key partners and contributing to national policy debates. During my visit I was struck by the existence of the so-called ‘Westminster bubble’ that I had previously heard about. Within this ‘bubble’ there were Government Ministers, civil servants and colleagues from national and London-based charities. I did not hear many Northern accents, nor bump into anyone I knew from the North.

This would not be such an issue if we could be sure that Northern perspectives were being reflected in Government policy.

However, under the auspices of localism, we are seeing a centralisation of power and the emergence of a democratic deficit as regional voices are being neglected (if we are still allowed to use the word regional).

The removal of the Government Offices and the fact that there are very few Northern Conservative MPs (or prospects of being more) is reflected in the current design of Government policy. Policies are rooted in reality that those of us outside of London and the Home Counties do not recognise (I realise this is probably also the case for many people within those areas too!)

You would think that the Government would be interested to come and see what was happening in the North West, but since the election, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles has only visited the North West three times. Which would lead us to wonder if Northern communities are simply not as interesting or relevant for the Government…?

There does not appear to be an analysis in Government policy that recognises the role that poverty and place has on people’s lives.

When the intersection of race and gender is added to this, we begin to see real disadvantage that should surely be a national priority. For example, the employment gap between BME women in the North West and the rest of the population is twenty-seven percent.

This neglect of Northern issues can be seen in the policy that emerges from the centre. For instance, the end of Area Based Grants (AGB) where 23 of 39 areas in the North West were in receipt, challenges the notion in the Open Public Services White Paper that the Government are targeting resources where they are needed most. The withdrawal of the ABG takes away a key source of funding for many deprived communities and the VCS organisations that work within them. This is particularly challenging for BME communities, thirty percent of whom live in the North West’s five most deprived areas.

This lack of understanding results in policy decisions that will not work for our communities in the North of England. Simply ignoring regional disparities will not help tackle our economic crisis. We are lucky to have partners such as Voice4Change EnglandMigrants’ Rights Network and the Runnymede Trust who recognise the need to work in the North. It would be nice if the Government did too.
Disclaimer: Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of Voice4Change England.