Get Ready for a Deluge of ‘Royal’ Visits

Sexy Politics

Lancashire will be a key area in deciding who will form the next government, with a number of marginal seats to be fought in the county at the polls in May.

At this moment in time all the polling evidence suggests that we are heading for another ‘hung’ parliament with none of the two ‘big’ parties pulling up any trees at the moment; the Tories obsessed once again with the issue of Europe, and Labour being led by a man that is clearly struggling to impose himself in the minds of the electorate as a potential Prime Minister.

For the Liberal Democrats the Coalition agreement has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, and for all their protestations about their input into policies surrounding the low paid, the green agenda and, indeed, the economy, the perception voters have of Nick Clegg & Co is of a party that sold its soul for a whiff of the red ministerial boxes. The tuition fees U-turn effectively killed them.

Labour had hoped to pick up the majority of Lib Dem discontents, and win the election by simply adopting a more traditional social democrat, safety first approach that would enable them to hit the 35% of the vote mark, which would give them a small, but workable, majority.

They had not factored in the backlash to traditional politics that we are witnessing at the moment, nor the fact that they are likely to lose a significant number of ‘safe’ seats themselves north of the border to the Scottish Nationalists.

The Tories will lose votes, if not seats, to UKIP, that may lead to them missing out on some of their target constituencies, and who knows how other minority parties like the Greens and even Plaid Cymru will perform.

It all means that just seven months out from the election, we really have no clue as to the type of government we will have in place next year. The lack of genuine, consistent leadership from either Cameron or Miliband makes it a wide open race, and that means that every vote will count, particularly in this part of the world. Expect a series of high profile visits from Ministers and Shadow Ministers over the next few months – and then sit back and watch as Alex Salmond becomes the Deputy Prime Minister in the next Coalition that is cobbled together post May.

One Lancashire – One Voice

Power to the North

The announcement of the creation of a ‘Super Power’ on our doorstep should be a massive wake up call to the civic leaders of Lancashire.

Greater Manchester’s devolution deal on Monday with the government gives the city region powers over a whole range of powers including transport, housing, social care and planning – plus an additional £1 billion of spend.

To unlock this incredible deal, Manchester has worked hard for over a decade to act in a mature, cohesive and co-ordinated fashion, delivered a huge number of regeneration projects, accelerated the growth of its airport and built a modern, twenty first century tram system that spans the entire city region. The first elected Greater Manchester Metro Mayor will be created as part of this ‘Devo Manc’ package.

The deal proves beyond doubt that Westminster is now prepared to devolve significant powers and resource to those who have a track record of delivery, and an ability to have grown up relationships and partnership across local government boundaries, and only a bloody fool would fail to see that there is a window of opportunity to win similar powers for other Northern regions.

If Lancashire is to be part of this exciting revolution, then its council leaders need to stop the petty squabbling and parochialism, forget talk of splitting the county into two, and get their act together quickly.

The Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership has done a decent job, and this includes Blackburn and Blackpool. A new Combined Authority for the county should be based on the same boundaries, and we should agree to have an elected leader for that new Combined Authority model too.

If we fail to get our act together and miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to take control of our own economic destiny, then it will be nothing short of a scandal.

Skills Programme Shows Lancashire Is Listening

lancs skill supposrt

It’s easy to level accusations at the public sector, particularly when it comes to engagement with the business community.

For example, the apathy that’s often shown towards public sector business support must be quite disheartening for those working hard behind the scenes in local authorities to come up with a service offering that can genuinely add value.

However, I must doff my hat to Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who appear to have come up with a great project to solve one of the major headaches facing businesses at the present time.

We all read in the news about how skills shortages are hindering business growth across the UK. Last month, the county council and the LEP launched Lancashire Skills Support for the Workforce (LSS) – a £5.6m workforce training programme aimed at helping Lancashire plc up-skill its employees to achieve growth.

Using cash from the European Social Fund, LSS will support almost 4,000 employees aged 19 and over by giving their employer access to free and accredited training from leading providers, such as their local college, based on their skills requirements.

This is great news for Lancashire businesses and, in my opinion, it shows that the county council and Lancashire LEP are listening to businesses and responding quickly to genuine business need.

While all SMEs (up to 250 employees) are eligible to apply, the programme is particularly keen to attract businesses in the following growth sectors:

  • Aerospace
  • Advanced engineering & manufacturing
  • Energy, environment and low carbon
  • Financial and professional services
  • Creative and digital
  • Leisure, tourism and visitor economy
  • Health occupations
  • Professional, scientific and technical occupations

The LSS delivery partnership currently comprises Accrington and Rossendale College, Age UK Lancashire, Blackburn College, Blackpool and the Fylde College, Burnley College, Joint Learning, Lancashire Adult Learning, Lancaster and Morecambe College, Myerscough College, Nelson and Colne College, Preston’s College, Runshaw College, VIA Partnership and West Lancashire College.

The fund operates across the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area, which consists of Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen local authorities. It will run until July 2015 – with places allocated to businesses on a first-come, first-served basis.

Businesses looking to benefit from the programme can find further information and apply through a new website

Lancashire Needs To Make Some Noise


It’s not been a good week for Lancashire. The disappointing, though expected, announcement about the closure of Blackpool Airport was quickly followed by a BAE statement about the potential loss of around 300 jobs.

As we prepare for today’s Lancashire Growth Conference at Brockholes, the mood will be upbeat, but this double whammy will inevitably lead to a discussion about how firm the economic recovery is – particularly in this part of the world.

The challenge for county’s like Lancashire is to maintain profile and attract investment despite being in the middle of the two big city regions of Manchester and Liverpool. Losses of high paying, quality jobs are not part of the plan.

Nonetheless, the glass is still very much half full for Lancashire and the key for that to continue is private sector growth in the small and medium business sector.

The days when any area can or should rely on big employers such as BAE are long gone. They are ‘very nice to have’ but local economies need to be built on a diverse range of businesses, and inevitably the vast majority of those companies are more likely to employ 50 people than 550.

For a county that is blessed with some of the best hotels, restaurants and countryside in the UK, and sits on the doorstep of the Lake District, perhaps we need to be focussing a little more seriously on the tourist and hospitality sector? The professional services offer we have here is top class too, but our lack of ability in shouting about what we have got to the outside world continues to be a frustration to me.

Ruth Connor, the excellent head honcho of Marketing Lancashire, is doing her best to change this unfortunate psyche – but she needs our help and our support.

Being loud, bold and brash may not be the Lancashire way, but we need to develop a strong narrative and a more robust way of presenting the county if announcements such as those made this week are not to have a long term negative impact on our aims and objectives.

Now Osborne Targets Labour’s Core Vote


Following a surprisingly low key Labour Party conference in Manchester last month most objective commentators quickly reached the conclusion that Ed Miliband and his team have decided that the ‘35% strategy’ is their best hope of winning the next General Election in May 2015.

This plan supposes that Labour can win a small, but workable, overall majority in the House with just a thirty odd per cent vote, such are the anomalies within our first-past-the-post electoral system, and the likelihood that the Tory vote will be split because of UKIP.

To this end we heard a lot from Labour about fairness, social justice, increasing the minimum wage, the NHS, and, lest we forget, sticking it to the ‘rich’ with a Mansion tax and the re-introduction of a 50p tax rate. We did not hear too much about the deficit, though Ed did mean to refer to it – he just forgot.

Targeting its core vote may not seem like the party is taking the principled high ground here, but as pragmatic strategies go, it seems a reasonable approach for the opposition to take.

It was more of a shock to hear Chancellor George Osborne target the same audience in his speech to the Tory faithful in Birmingham on Monday morning though – although he did so in a much less friendly manner.

Many of Labour’s natural supporters, 10 million families according to some reports, will suffer from a child benefit freeze, welfare cuts and a further period of austerity as the Conservatives try to tackle a budget deficit that has actually gone up on its watch during this parliament.

It was not the sort of pre-election give away that many have come to expect from the man who sits in number 11 Downing Street, but George is gambling that we believe the economy is still on the critical list, and must continue to be nursed back to health with another dose of hard-nosed austerity.

For the first time in many a year we appear to have some clear blue water between our two major parties, with not quite a return of ‘class war’ but certainly the threat of a skirmish.

It is oh so depressing, and gesture politics at its worse.

Labour know that a 50p tax rate will generate LESS not more revenue for HMRC. Independent research has consistently shown that at 50% people start to actively seek ways of legal tax avoidance, and I have to say, who can blame them?

The idea that the only people who earn six figure salaries are boy racer bankers and sweat shop bosses is an insult to this country’s entrepreneurs and indeed to the wider electorate.

Most of us in business, millionaires or not, work tirelessly and deserve the rewards we earn. It is absolutely right that we pay our fair share of tax, but taking half of someone’s income isn’t fair, and many of Labour’s core vote understand that. Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business minister, is doing his best to balance his party’s anti-business narrative, but his task will get harder if the two Ed’s continue to cheer lead for the politics of envy.

Osborne too is being dishonest when he suggests that greater means testing and benefit freezes bring huge savings. He is as bad for helping to peddle the nonsense that everyone on benefits is a scrounger or a cheat as Labour is in trying to paint every millionaire as a wide boy. He is as likely to raise the money he claims he will accrue from his welfare budget proposals as Labour is from its planned 50p tax hike. Indeed, welfare reform, or more means testing, as introduced by the Coalition is costing us MORE not less.

The big saving in welfare spend is actually in pension provision. The problem for George and the Tories is that pensioners tend to vote – and most of them vote Conservative.

One of the criticisms I often hear of politicians and political parties is ‘they’re all the same’. Well, that can’t be said anymore. However, that other well-worn phrase ‘they’re all as bad as each other’ may be more accurate now than in many a year.