The Final Straight!

Final Straight

Well, summer is over (did it ever start?), the kids are back at school, and for business owners we can now get back to the serious business of growing our companies during the last part of the year. Realistically, we all have three months to generate as much business as we can before the Christmas festivities kick in.

September-November is traditionally the busiest time for Downtown as far as events are concerned. We have a number of gala awards evenings, and a whole host of morning, afternoon and evening forums for our members to connect, and hopefully do some business.

We pride ourselves on hosting events of the highest possible quality and I would always recommend that when you can you should maximise the benefits of our events programme, but we are all getting busier by the month, and so I am using my first blog of ‘the final straight’ of 2015 to highlight an event in each of our regions that I believe are ‘must attends’ for members.

In Lancashire, we have secured Sir Howard Bernstein for our Leaders Lunch at Barton Grange on 28th September. Generally accepted as the best local authority chief executive in the country, Howard has been the architect of Manchester’s devolution deal, and he will be talking about this, the Northern Powerhouse and much more besides at what I am sure will be a fascinating discussion.

For our members in Liverpool we have the inspirational whirlwind that is Michael Finnigan hosting our next ‘Rise & Grind’ forum. The man who has been a mentor and coach to some of the best known business leaders and sporting personalities across the globe will be with us at the Richmond Hotel on the 16th September. If you don’t feel motivated, pumped up and energised at the end of a Finnigan presentation, then my advice to you is to give up on being an entrepreneur and go and work in a library instead.

Mr Deansgate himself, Nik Maguire, will be our keynote speaker at the Manchester Leaders Lunch on the 8th October at the James Martin restaurant. What Nik will talk about is anybody’s guess, but his contributions are always thought provoking, entertaining and controversial. As importantly, our Manchester lunches attract a fantastic crowd, so if you are looking to connect with some of the city’s liveliest ‘movers & shakers’ this one is for you.

Our ‘Leading of Leeds’ series has proved really popular in our Yorkshire base, and our guests this year have included council chief executive Tom Riordan, Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Roger Marsh, and the former council leader Keith Wakefield. Next up, on 26th October, we will be exploring the potential and opportunities that the recently established Leeds Business Improvement District (BID) offers with the organisations chief executive.

Last, but by no means least, we have our launch event in Birmingham at the Marco Pierre White Champagne Lounge. We will be joined by the chief executive of Birmingham City Council Mark Rogers, and the chief executive of Marketing Birmingham Neil Rami, for what I am sure will be the start of an interesting journey in the West Midlands.

A major digital conference in Preston, gala awards dinners in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire, plus our regular and outrageously packed out sexy networking evenings; a gathering of the clans’ night and exclusive invitation only dinners means a busy autumn for Downtown. I look forward to seeing you at several of those events. There is, quite literally, something for everyone.

A small step for mankind – a huge one for Lancashire

Northern powerhouse

This week the government invited city and county regions to submit their devolution ‘asks’.

It is part of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda, although, post-election, councils’ from across the country are all being given the opportunity to ‘have a Manchester’ now.

For some time I have bemoaned the fact that Lancashire has been side-lined by the emphasis on cities as the principle economic drivers. As the leader of Lancashire County Council Jenifer Mein pointed out at a Downtown event last week the county region is the third biggest economy in England, and therefore needs to be seen at the heart of any powerhouse, rather than on its periphery.

The government, with some justification, could argue back and say that, unlike Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle, Lancashire had done little to progress a devolution programme itself.

However, at a meeting earlier this week the leaders from twelve districts, the two unitary authorities and Lancashire County Council came together and have devised a strategy to present to the Whitehall mandarins that at least gets the red rose county in the mix.

There will be a consultation with business organisations and other stakeholders about the type of Combined Authority Lancashire should be looking to create, and given the inevitability that a first wave of devolved organisations will go to conurbations with big city hubs, the county is unlikely to be at the vanguard of this initiative.

However, the fact that leaders are talking constructively about progressing a much more efficient, effective and co-ordinated governance structure is a credit to them, and great news for Lancashire’s future.

DEVO LANCS – Have your say!

Devo Lancs

In September the government will be consulting local authority leaders from across the country and deciding which areas will be offered the type of devolution deal that Manchester secured earlier this year.

It is time for Lancashire’s businesses to get involved in this important discussion, because if we don’t then there is every likelihood that our county will miss the opportunity of making any progress on an agenda that is part of chancellor George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ aspirations.

Devolved powers do not simply hand additional resources and extra responsibilities to political leaders. They offer the local business community a far greater say in how those resources are utilised, and how those additional policy making powers are shaped.

So on the many issues that Downtown members often express frustration with; the skills gap, poor transport links, planning, access to finance and business support, there is potentially a governance model that would establish a direct engagement between Lancashire’s decision makers and the county’s private sector.

To give our members a voice in this crucial debate, Downtown has organised a special breakfast event on the morning of Thursday 27th August at the Tickled Trout. ‘Devo Lancs- What Next?’ will explore the impact devolution could have on Lancashire, particularly in relation to the local economy and business. You should come along and have your say.

To register for the event and have your say please CLICK HERE.

Mersey Mayor almost there

Boe Johnderson

The establishment of a metro mayor for the Liverpool city region came a step closer last week following a meeting of the leaders of the six Merseyside local authorities and local government Minister Greg Clark.

There may be some continued chest beating, huffing and puffing from those leaders who still see the insistence of an elected mayor to be an imposition too far; but pragmatism will surely dictate that to win the devolution of power that is on offer, the prize is greater than the perceived sacrifice.

For Downtown in Business, this provides another tick in the box for the many campaigns we have been involved in over the past eleven years. Our organisation has been a long-time advocate of metro mayors. Indeed long before George Osborne introduced his notion of the Northern Powerhouse, we were arguing for decentralisation of powers and resources, alongside a much needed modernisation of local governance structures.

To my mind local government should not see the introduction of metro mayors as either an imposition or a sacrifice. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate local democracy, and introduce some much needed accountability and transparency over a whole myriad of decisions on big strategic issues that are currently taken behind closed doors.

From European funding bids, through to decisions about skills funding; transport strategy to planning policy; a combination of unelected representatives of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the six Labour men who run the Combined Authority, own this agenda with little or no challenge.

An elected mayor for the region will not only provide Greater Liverpool with an opportunity to deliver more effective and relevant strategies to grow our economy and create jobs, but also adds a much needed democratic and accountable element into areas of policy that absolutely need scrutiny and transparency.

Hopefully, too, it will help to re-engage the electorate with politics. Turnout for local polls are woefully poor, as electors have drawn the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the only election that matters is the one that determines who governs at Westminster. The office of Metro Mayor will have genuine powers and resources to make significant decisions on behalf of their city region, and will become important figureheads for the localities they represent.

All being equal, in simple terms, Liverpool will have its own Boris by 2017. That is a win for Downtown – and more importantly a win for our city too.

End of year reflections…

Reflections Lan

The last twelve months has seen the economy slowly, if not surely, start to go in the right direction; business confidence returning; our mainstream national politicians continue to struggle to win back the trust and credibility of the voting public; Scotland remaining as part of the Union, but nationalists still pushing for separation; and on the back of that Scottish referendum a significant move towards devolution for England’s city regions.

Downtown celebrated its tenth anniversary and as ‘metro mayors’ and devolution has been an issue we have advocated for many a year, it was with some satisfaction that our decade in business coincided with this agenda being genuinely discussed and debated by political leaders from all parties.

Manchester has, once again, stolen a march on the rest of the North, with its ‘Devo Manc’ deal, but there is no reason why Lancashire can’t get its act together in the New Year and begin to map out a new governance structure for the county that will give us the new powers and additional resources that would surely be welcomed by even the most parochial of local politicians.

Despite a now tired campaign by some political leaders who still prefer to look backwards rather than to the future and are in their 99th year of calling for a split between the East of Lancashire and the rest of the county, the Manchester deal has woken most up to the fact that unity of purpose and scale is the only game in town.

West Lancashire’s flirtation with Liverpool, and the tiny fiefdoms Fylde and Chorley threatening possible UDI will surely be seen as what they are – a final hurrah from small time politicians who would be better suited to running a Parish Council.

One of few negatives in a year of many positives for Lancashire this year has been the sad and untimely reminder that at a senior political level we remain disconnected and poorly co-ordinated despite the fact that government is demanding strategic unity.

The work that Marketing Lancashire has undertaken under the leadership of Ruth Connor has demonstrated that entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and an ability to ignore the peripheral nonsense and just get on with it can lead to impressive results.

The business support initiative BOOST has been a real positive too, as has the growth not only in the traditional sectors of manufacturing, but also in the creative and digital arena, and the hospitality sector, where there has been significant investment in new build and refurbishment across the county.

I am optimistic that there will be more positives than negatives in the New Year, with a shake-up of the well run but poorly marketed Local Enterprise Partnership promised; the forging of closer links between the county’s previous warring politicians for the common good, and the private sector hopefully working more effectively together too as Downtown initiates a ‘network of networks’ for organisations to come together and offer businesses a more consistent voice.

Nonetheless, the public sector cuts agenda that has to be implemented will have a huge impact; there may be two General Elections not just one if the existing polls are to be believed; and Lancashire has yet to punch its weight sufficiently to be in George Osborne’s Devolution plan.

Whatever, the glass is most certainly half full. In 2015 Downtown will continue to discuss and debate these issues and more besides I’m sure. We will ruffle a few feathers, no doubt fall out with one or two people – but we will remain a force for good.

We are passionate about this county. We are passionate about the North of England. It is why we do what we do, making this the best business club in the region, the most relevant, the best connected and never afraid to speak our mind.

Have a fantastic Christmas, a prosperous New Year, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!