The North has lost its seat at the Cabinet table after Boris Johnson's reshuffle
The Northern Powerhouse Minister no longer sits in Cabinet and the post appears to have been abolished entirelyby Jonathan Walker
The North of England has lost its representative at the Cabinet table as a result of Boris Johnson's reshuffle.
Before Thursday's reshuffle, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry attended Cabinet. Now, Mr Berry has left the Government, and the position no longer appears to exist.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps MP tweeted on Friday evening that he would take on the responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse.
He tweeted: "Proud to be asked by the PM to take on responsibility for Northern Powerhouse at Cabinet level. I'll work tirelessly to help realise the incredible potential of the Northern Powerhouse, as part of our commitment to level up the country."
Earlier in the day, Simon Clarke, the MP Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, announced has been appointed to a similar post - but without the Northern Powerhouse title, and without a seat in the Cabinet.
Mr Clarke appears to have a nation-wide role supporting the Government's plans to "level up" regions outside London and the South East, rather than focusing specifically on the North.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: "My focus will be on working with communities across the country to support our great Mayors and help create new devolution settlements for areas that don’t yet have them."
The Teesside MP, who grew up Middlesbrough, also said: "The Northern Powerhouse is my home".
However, while Government statements and the official Government website referred to Mr Berry as the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Mr Clarke is simply referred to as a Minister of State in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Whitehall sources confirmed that Mr Clarke will not attend Cabinet. Instead, another Cabinet Minister is expected to be given a role representing the Northern Powerhouse, on top of their other duties.
A Whitehall source said the Government should be judged on whether it delivers on its plans to level up the country and build infrastructure in the North and elsewhere, including the planned Northern Powerhouse Rail line, rather than who sits in the Cabinet.
The source said: "The Prime Minister's commitment to levelling up the North could not be clearer".
Sources also indicated that slimming down the Cabinet, which previously included a number of Ministers who attended despite not been official members, was designed to help the Government "get itself into a place where it delivers consistently, quickly, on what the public wants."
But not everyone would agree. Mr Berry himself, in an interview with ChronicleLive in June 2019, said it was essential that the North did have a representative in the Cabinet.
He said at the time: "If you look at the size of the North’s economy, it is bigger than the economies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined. And each one of those nations already has their own secretary of state who is sat round the cabinet table fighting for them at things like the comprehensive spending review.
“So if this Government, as I believe we are, is serious about delivering the northern powerhouse, then surely it is an inarguable fact that there should be someone round the cabinet table fighting for the northern economy."
Announcing his resignation from the Government on Thursday night, Mr Berry again highlighted the importance of a seat at the Cabinet.
He said: "It has been the greatest privilege of my life to fight for the North in Westminster. For the last two and a half years I have helped move the Northern Powerhouse from concept to Cabinet table."
He said he had quit the Government after being offered another role that required substantial amounts of foreign travel which would have taken him away from his three young children, including a week-old baby.
The Cabinet holds weekly meetings chaired by the Prime Minister and includes the most senior ministers in the Government, such as the Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. Any major decision taken by the Government would usually be discussed there.
Labour MP Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said the decision to remove a dedicated voice for the North was "extremely worrying".
She said: "For all the talk of levelling up the UK, this reshuffle looks like the Northern Powerhouse has been shunted down the Government’s priorities list.
"Without someone at the Cabinet table whose sole duty it is to speak up for the North, it could very easily get lost amid the day to day business of Government.
"Who will be there at Cabinet to make the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail and the vital upgrades we need to the East Coast Mainline?
"Who will be pushing Ministers across Government to devolve more power so that decisions about our region are made in our region?
"For all the spin over substance, especially when Conservative austerity has seen £6.3 billion taken from the North, it was welcome to see a dedicated voice for the Northern Powerhouse in Government.
"They must go further and faster if they really want to level up our region but it’s extremely worrying that this reshuffle seems to be leaving us even further behind."