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Salmond calls for creation of a new northern accord

ALEX Salmond has called for an economic "northern accord" to be forged between Scotland and the north of England.

appeal: First Minister Alex Salmond called for better links with the north-east and investment in connectivity as he criticised the High Speed 2 rail project. Picture: Colin Templeton
appeal: First Minister Alex Salmond called for better links with the north-east and investment in connectivity as he criticised the High Speed 2 rail project. Picture: Colin Templeton

In a speech to business leaders in Newcastle, the First Minister said the UK's cities and regions should place less reliance on London and work together to boost their economies.

He also hailed the strong bonds between Scotland and the north-east and north of England.

His comments came a day after a think-tank suggested the north of England needed a "Salmond figure" to help win greater economic powers, especially if Scotland became independent or achieved greater devolution.

Addressing the North East Economic Forum, he highlighted the UK Government's £33 billion High Speed 2 rail link – warning plans to link London and Birmingham by 2026 would leave much of Britain "high and dry".

The First Minister said: "The current proposals for high-speed rail are promoted as being for a 'UK network' – but we know it is no such thing.

"Neither Edinburgh nor Newcastle, Glasgow nor Liverpool feature in the Department for Transport's proposals for this link and it is clear there is no urgency from the south-east to recognise this gaping need.

"Scotland and the north-east have strong economies which could be stronger with better links to each other, and a well- developed, efficient and resilient rail network provides our businesses with the certainty they need to invest, and supports the strong bonds we have.

"This is why we need an urgent review of the current high-speed rail plans to ensure it can be delivered faster – and beyond Birmingham."

He urged English business leaders and agencies to work with the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to press for High Speed 2 to extend further north. Under present plans, phase two will take the link only as far as Leeds and Manchester by 2033.

Mr Salmond added: "We all recognise that competitiveness of places – be it in Scotland, or in the north-east – depends on investment in infrastructure, and investment in connectivity.

"That is why it is critical that we do not allow our needs to be shelved in favour of a south-centric project which will leave the north of these islands cut off from the rest of Europe.

"It is vital that by working in partnership we all support the development of a high-speed rail network for Britain, which is delivered faster and reaches further, so that all can share its benefits and all can contribute to its success."

A source close to the First Minister said: "We are always happy to talk about co-operation with the north-east and north of England whenever we can.

"We want to work with our friends and neighbours over the Border on many issues of mutual benefit going forward."

The First Minister's plea came a day after the Scottish Government announced plans for a high-speed link between Glasgow and Edinburgh by 2024. Ministers failed to reveal the cost or route, although earlier studies have suggested a £3 billion price tag.

Analysis: is the Glasgow-Edinburgh fast link such a daft idea?

It also followed comments by Katie Schmuecker, associate director of IPPR North, who said the north of England needed a "Salmond figure" to win greater economic powers for the region.

A report by the think-tank Borderland suggested an independent or fiscally autonomous Scotland could not afford to slash corporation tax but could gain a competitive advantage over the north of England by using a mixture of smaller taxes and business grants.

The report followed growing concern in the north at Scottish Government plans to cut corporation tax if it gains the power to do so.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: "The SNP's plans for corporation tax are designed to draw economic activity away from the north-east.

"They would result in cuts to public spending both there and in Scotland and rely on a gamble that revenues will pick up in Scotland before lasting damage is done.

"The SNP are no friends of the north of England."

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