Northern Powerhouse is at the heart of pandemic fightback


Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps: 17 November 2020

In my last blog, I wrote that these were undoubtedly dark times, but also of my absolute belief that we must be unrelenting in continuing to level up, build back better and secure a brighter and more prosperous future.

In the past week, the North have been playing a vital role in the fight against COVID, and the government will make sure we continue to support them every step of the way.

News of significant advances in the work to deliver a coronavirus vaccine have offered us real hope, and the success of mass testing in Liverpool has provided the blueprint for another 67 rapid-testing schemes right across the country.

I was struck not only by scenes of over 23,000 people across the city volunteering to take part in this huge testing programme but by stories of kindness and compassion – including locals providing army staff in Toxteth with daily tea and toast as thanks for their service.

On Thursday, the National Institute for Health Research launched three new Patient Recruitment Centres in Blackpool, Bradford and Newcastle, as part of a £7 million government investment to boost UK medical research. Driving forward innovative schemes like this will see patients among the first to access new treatments, including the latest COVID vaccines.

These investments are also creating more jobs. Last week alone, the Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab in Cheshire, announced a huge recruitment programme to employ hundreds of people to play a key role in supporting the country’s drive to increase coronavirus testing. I have every confidence that these vital research initiatives will help attract further investment from the global life science industry in the future.

However, the fight against COVID isn’t just about new ingenuity and research. It’s just as important to make sure we’re investing in protecting the proud heritage and culture which makes the North so great. Art, music, drama, and heritage sites are vital to bringing communities together, and so I’m delighted that the government has provided iconic Northern cultural institutions with millions of pounds in support.

Durham Cathedral, a unique symbol of hope, confidence, and character has received a £1.9 million Cultural Recovery Grant from us this month. The Salford Lowry, which is not only home of the national LS Lowry collection but a community hub that nurtures local talent, has received £3 million to help it continue to use the arts as a vehicle for social change, helping young people develop creatively, personally and professionally.

As Transport Secretary I’m particularly pleased we are supporting the largest preserved heritage railway in the UK, which runs through the beautiful North York Moors National Park. And we cannot underestimate how important it is that we have provided support to legendary institutions such as The Cavern Club, beloved for providing a stage for The Beatles, kickstarting the careers of countless musicians, including Queen and the Arctic Monkeys, and of course, giving Cilla Black a job in its cloakroom.

From the historic Newcastle Theatre Royal, the northern home of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, we’re protecting heritage and culture across the country to save jobs and ensure that these venues and landmarks bounce back strongly.

COVID hasn’t detracted from the government’s focus on the North and Midlands at all – in fact, the opposite is true. This pandemic has further emphasised the need to level up our country and, as I set out in a speech to the Great Northern Conference recently, we are more determined than ever to make this happen.

In my department, we continue to press on towards this vision of levelling up the North at pace.

Today we’ve seen Northumberland County Council launch their consultation on reopening the Northumberland line, closed under the Beeching cuts, making real progress towards restoring stations and services that can revitalise local communities and open new opportunities for business and work.

Later this month, I will be chairing a meeting of the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, where local elected leaders will discuss how together we can get the transport projects the North needs delivered fast.

And before the end of the year, we will be publishing our Integrated Rail Plan, showing how projects, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, can be connected strategically to deliver the train services that we people need and deserve, as quickly as possible.

We know there is more to be done, and we are committed to meeting the challenge of levelling up this country. With investment in innovation at the heart of the North’s fightback to COVID, investment in sustaining heritage and culture to strengthen its soul, we know we can have great hope for its future.