After Liz Truss’s and Rishi Sunak’s visit to Norwich yesterday, the pressure is on both candidates for the Conservative leadership contest to live up to their promises to level the East of England.
Despite the East being an economic success story – the 4th strongest economic region in the UK – decades of underinvestment have left the region lagging behind where it should be. This has negative consequences for the UK as a whole, not just the East. This is why we created the Eastern Powerhouse with the policy think tank ResPublica earlier in this year.
The East receives 40% less levelling up funding than other regions, and a smaller share of overall public investment. According to our research, closing this investment gap would generate an extra £31 billion a year in GDP, and £11 billion of additional tax-take for the Exchequer.
Simply put, the East can produce the highest return for the lowest investment, when compared to other regions. This is a big open goal for the new Prime minister, considering the huge benefits that the East could bring to the UK if it received proper investment. Yesterday’s statements by both candidates at the hustings suggest that they are beginning recognize the enormous potential of East Asia.
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Liz Truss, the South West Norfolk MP, is well-placed in identifying and addressing the issues that are currently holding back the region. Her promise yesterday to “turbocharge” the economy of East Anglia – through measures like tax cuts, better regulation, new investment zones, and cutting red tape – is encouraging.
Equally, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak proved himself to be a keen champion of regional empowerment – his record Teesside speaks for itself. His plans include improving mental health services and investing in rail. He also plans to build new hospitals and upgrade special educational needs and disabilities services.
Both plans are welcome and signal a renewed political interest for the East that has been missing for decades. The new leader of the East will need to address the policy gaps that restrict growth in order to level it up.
On Wednesday, fourteen top eastern businesses (and founders members of the Eastern Powerhouse), shared their top concerns in an open forum. letter. I have also written to the candidates as chair of the partnership. Because of the strong feeling in the area, our members wanted to hear their voices directly.
Their letter highlighted the top priority actions that the new Prime Minster must take to unlock the East’s potential. It first highlighted the need for rail infrastructure improvements, especially in Ely North junction, where bottlenecks frequently impede movement of goods and people. (Truss and Sunak have pledged to invest in rail service at Ely and Haughley, which is particularly welcome).
The next priority is the need for a more coherent energy strategy — one that combines oil, gas, solar, wind and nuclear, all of them in abundance in the eastern region.
Then there is the need for a life sciences strategy for the region, which would join-up existing science and technology clusters to create a ‘Silicon East’. The East can lead the way in agritech and green energy as well as many other industries of tomorrow with the right investments.
These requests all relate to the opportunities that exist in the East. Rather than telling government to start bold, large-scale infrastructure projects from scratch, we are effectively saying: ‘make better use of what is already here’.
The clock will begin to tick on the new Prime Minister’s promise to keep the growing list of promises he made during the leadership contest. The candidates should be able to find simple solutions to policy problems, especially in key areas that are hindering growth.
The Eastern Powerhouse is ready and available to support policymakers as they work towards growth. We too are focused on this goal. Our message is clear: Looking East will not only level the investment playing field with other areas, but also provide substantial returns for the entire UK. We greatly look forward to working with the new government to make this vision a reality.