EAST Lancashire MP Jake Berry has rejected claims the government has downgraded the North Powerhouse.

As the minister responsible for the initiative he dismissed a new report which said the 'chaos' of Brexit had relegated its priority status at Westminster and Whitehall.

The Institute of Public Policy Research's 'State of the North 2018' report said pay and public spending in the North was still falling while two million people lived in poverty across the region which had some of the UK's lowest life expectancies.

Report author Luke Raikes said: “The Government is so consumed by Westminster’s Brexit chaos that it has deprioritised the Northern Powerhouse agenda at the very time it is needed most. This cannot continue.

“All our regional economies face severe challenge. Brexit threatens to make this much worse and the Northern Powerhouse agenda is the best chance we have of fixing this national economic crisis. In the national interest, the North needs to thrive. The best way forward is for the North to take the lead."

The report also calls for shift in the Northern Powerhouse agenda away from its big cities like Manchester and Liverpool towards its major including towns,rural areas and natural assets.

It says: "In the North, recent productivity growth has been driven by non-metropolitan areas – Lancashire, Cumbria

and Tees Valley.

"There has been disproportionate growth in wholesale trade and the manufacture of food products in Lancashire.

"High-tech manufacturing is concentrated in Tees Valley, Cumbria, Lancashire and the North East."

The report calls for a much bigger investment in transport in the region

Mr Berry said: “The North is thriving, with a record number of people in work and more than 200,000 more businesses today than in 2010.

"The one thing in the report I fully agree with is that the Northern Powerhouse must not be concentrated on the big cities like Manchester and Liverpool but spread across the region and areas like East Lancashire and make the most of the opportunities it offers.

"In my opinion Brexit is for Christmas but the Northern Powerhouse is for life.

"In government the work goes on to provide investment, opportunity, growth and jobs for the North.

“We are backing the whole of the Northern Powerhouse with £3.4bn to boost local economic growth and a record £13bn in transport improvements, almost £250 per person, more than any other region, will be invested next year to help commuters and motorists across the North.”