If you were asked what was needed to make the north of England a great place to live, what would your response be? Here are some possible answers: satisfying and well paid jobs; good public transport; great education; good facilities for playing sport; good opportunities to launch a business and see it flourish; streets that are pleasant to walk and cycle down; popular places to dance and hear live music; green spaces; shared concern for children and people who are less able to look after themselves; and much more.
You’ll have things on your list that I’ve missed, or you’ll talk about the same things in a different way or with a different emphasis. But I hope and believe, based on my everyday life, that we all basically want the same things for ourselves and our families, friends and fellow citizens. So if there is so much crossover between the things that so many of us want, why is it so hard to make them happen?
I think it is because we allow ourselves to be ruled by people who live and work in a completely different part of the country. England is acknowledged as the most centralised country in the developed world, and almost every decision about us is made in the City of London, Whitehall and Westminster. Those people don’t live their lives in the north of England, so why should we expect them to care about, or contribute to, what happens here with anything more than the narrowest sense of professional obligation?
To make matters worse, there is very little difference between the policies of the left and right when it comes to who controls spending in the north. The Westminster Labour Party is just as centralised as any other English national institution. Regardless of who is in power, career paths, well paid jobs and policy choices will remain concentrated in, and of greatest benefit to, central London. Why should we, living and working in the north, continue to place our hope and faith in a national elite? Why not get together to decide what we want and demand the authority – and responsibility – needed to make it happen?
I’m part of the Hannah Directory, a group of people and small organisations in West Yorkshire that have joined forces to highlight some of the good things happening in the north. This month, we’re going to be hosting What Kind of Region?, a half-day event in Bradford during which we will share ideas about what kind of place we
want to live in. It will be the first in an ongoing series of activities to make links between people, create new ideas and make positive things happen. A second session is already being planned for April. The event is open to, and welcomes, anyone who is making their life here now. We’d love to meet with people doing similar things in other places in the north.
Andrew Wilson is the co-ordinator of Hannah Directory (hannahfestival.com), an annual print publication, website and event celebrating people doing great stuff in the north (@hannahfestival). What Kind of Region? event was held on 7 November.