Following Liz Trusss and Rishi’s visit yesterday to Norwich for the penultimate round of the Conservative leadership contests, the pressure on both candidates is on them to fulfill their promises to level up East 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 implications not only for the East but also for the UK in general. It is why the Eastern Powerhouse was established in collaboration with ResPublica, a policy think tank.
The East receives 40% less in levelling-up funding than other regions. It also receives a lower share overall of 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. The potential benefits to the UK from proper investment in the East is hugely important for the new Prime Minister. Both candidates spoke at the hustings yesterday to show that they are beginning to see the immense potential of the East.
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Liz Truss, as the South West Norfolk MP is well-placed and equipped to address the problems that are currently limiting 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 for the region include improving mental healthcare services, investing in rail and building new hospitals as well as upgrading special educational needs, disability services, and other special education needs.
These plans are a welcome beginning, and signify a renewed political interest for the East that has been missing for decades. To fully level up the East, however, the new leader must also identify and address policy gaps that are limiting growth.
On Wednesday, 14 leading eastern businesses (and founders of the Eastern Powerhouse), presented their top concerns in a joint conference. letter. As chair of the partnership I have also written to the candidates. Our members wanted to express their opinions directly because of the strong feelings in the region.
The letter detailed the top priorities that the new Prime Minister must pursue 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, Sunak and Haughley have both pledged to invest in rail services at Ely & Haughley. This is especially 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 be a leader in agritech, life sciences, and many other future industries if it makes the right investments.
All of these requests are related to opportunities that already exist for 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’.
Once the new Prime minister is sworn into office, the clock will tick to fulfill a growing number of promises made during this 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.