Is the Chancellor Manchester’s not so secret weapon?


Sir Richard Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein are, quite rightly, given a significant amount of the credit for their city’s 25 year run of growth and success that has culminated in the much publicised ‘Devo Manc’ deal that has been progressed over the past eighteen months or so.

However, news this week of disquiet in Birmingham, and a bit of an internal rift within the higher echelons of the government, would seem to confirm that Manchester has another talented and influential politician driving forward their cause in the name of Chancellor George Osborne.

His latest intervention on behalf of the city that has inevitably emerged as the capital of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse initiative has reportedly put the nose of his business minister Sajid Javid out of joint, along with the leading movers and shakers of the ‘West Midlands engine’.

The Chinese are in the UK this week and Birmingham’s leaders, headed by Javid alongside senior councillors and officials and the chair of the Greater Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership and John Lewis boss Andy Street, had been confident that their lobbying had secured a visit from the Chinese President today.

However, the Chancellor is said to have intervened, and instead the Chinese entourage will rock up in Manchester today, visiting Manchester Town Hall and the University, before heading off to the Etihad Stadium. Both Osborne and the Prime Minister will be in attendance.

Given that Birmingham has secured investment that will see Chinese manufacturer Changan Automobile create hundreds of jobs in the region by relocating its UK operations to Birmingham Business Park; and the fact that China will build the HS2 high speed rail line, which will initially run between London and Birmingham, it is easy to see while West Midlands leaders feel aggrieved.

However, this latest episode is a further demonstration that the Northern Powerhouse agenda means more than devolution and rebalancing the UK economy to George. It’s about helping him in his ambition to be the next resident in Number ten Downing Street. And that’s good news for Manchester!

Let’s stick together

Power to the North

“If you’re in this city, the competition can be Everton versus Liverpool. If you’re in my city its City against United. In business terms we often see the competition as Manchester versus Liverpool. But then if the cockneys start make disparaging remarks about the North, we all bond together and have a go back at London. Then if the French slag off England, we unite with London to fire back at France.”

The delivery of this excellent observation came from Mr Deansgate, Nik Maguire, addressing the digital forum which was part of the series of excellent Liverpool Business Week events hosted by Downtown this week.

It was a point that was well made at a time when, in trying to compete in a global market and establish a Northern Powerhouse, the necessity for us to identify common goals rather than focus on traditional rivalries is increasingly obvious.

The good news is that, a few notable parochial internal spats in Lancashire and Merseyside notwithstanding, our regional business and political leaders have taken note.

The degree of co-operation taking place between Leeds, Manchester, Lancashire, Liverpool and the other core cities of the north on transport infrastructure is significant.

Equally, arguably the greatest of city rivalries between Liverpool and Manchester, has been put aside on many occasions over the past eighteen months, with the cities sharing platforms, marketing collateral and policy development in a whole range of areas. The London based MIPIM UK property festival in October will see Manchester and Liverpool share exhibition space for the second consecutive year.

And, as Liverpool gears up to host the UK International Festival for Business in twelve months’ time, the man tasked with making a success of this unique three week jamboree, Max Steinberg, is reaching out to the rest of the country, in particular other parts of northern England, to help showcase what is the best of British.

The festival is a great opportunity for businesses from across the country – but also a chance to show that we can genuinely establish a Northern Powerhouse where our great cities and counties work together when needed for the greater good.

Want Devolution? Then get an Elected Mayor!


So, it couldn’t be clearer. If city regions and county’s want what Manchester has in terms of devolved powers and additional resources, then they will have to adopt a governance model that includes an elected mayor.

George Osborne has thrown down the gauntlet to the likes of Leeds and Liverpool, who had indicated outright opposition to such a proposition; and he has provided counties such as Lancashire with the opportunity of genuinely getting involved in the Northern Powerhouse project.

It didn’t take Leeds long to accept that, with a majority Tory government in situ for the next five years (and way beyond that if the Labour Party continues to act as it is at the moment), a more pragmatic approach to the ‘metro mayor’ idea was required. The chairman of the Leeds Combined Authority, Peter Box, has conceded that it is something that must be explored, and I would expect progress to be made fairly quickly in terms of a West Yorkshire deal with central government. I am certainly looking forward to hearing the thoughts of Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan at our forthcoming City of Leeds Business Awards evening on the 4th June.

Liverpool has remained virtually silent on the issue post-election, with city mayor Joe Anderson continuing his call for the other local authority leaders from across Merseyside to accept reality, but his comments seemingly falling on deaf ears. Unless and until the leaders from Halton, St Helens, Wirral and Knowsley demonstrate a more mature and practical response to the Osborne agenda than has thus far been the case, then the Liverpool City Region risks being side-lined from this hugely important agenda; and an increasingly frustrated business community may just start to agitate far more vociferously than has been the case so far.

For Lancashire, the chancellor’s latest speech in Manchester on the ‘devo’ subject last week gave the county some clarity and, hopefully, the reason for a collective and cohesive response to a debate that, up until now, had appeared to focus exclusively on city regions.

A ‘One Lancashire’ model, based on the boundaries currently operated by the Local Enterprise Partnership, is what Ministers prefer. Time will only tell if Lancashire’s political leaders do a ‘Leeds’ or do a ‘Liverpool’.

Burying heads in the sand, hoping for a different Whitehall policy on local government and devolution was barely credible before the General Election – it is beyond stupid now.

Is Liverpool happy to just be Manchester’s playground?

IFB Mipim

Last week I referenced an event I had attended with Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese. Among the many great insights he offered into the success of his city was his analysis of how Manchester used to be marketed.

“We were very good at marketing ‘fun’ Manchester” he said. “But we needed to find a way in which we could promote corporate Manchester, and demonstrate why it was a place to do business and invest.”

It is a point that Liverpool’s leadership may wish to take account of as it plans its next business growth strategy. Because, for all of the improvements, regeneration and enhancement of reputation the city has undoubtedly enjoyed in the past decade, there is a concern among some of us that we are focussing a little too much on ‘fun’ Liverpool and not enough on the commercial offer.

Liverpool can proudly boast that it is now the best visited city in the UK outside of London and Edinburgh. It can evidence a track record of putting on a great show through events such as Capital of Culture and the giants. Our hotel, bar, restaurant and hospitality sector is quality. The Arena has been an unqualified success. But it is now time to move on, progress the agenda, and invest a little less in ‘fun’ and a bit more in the business of the city.

This was a topic I picked up on at Downtown Liverpool’s post MIPIM forum on Tuesday morning; and it has also been highlighted by the Think Tank led by former Liverpool Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle.

In his report ‘Damage Limitation on Devolution’ Kilfoyle argues that “often Liverpool is content with its new label as a party town, a place where people go for a stag night or hen party. Whereas once it was a great and important commercial centre, it is now happy to build ever more apartments for transient investors, rather than create jobs and houses for its deprived communities.”

I can only subscribe to a small part of this narrative, as I know how hard the city’s business and civic leadership is working to win jobs and investment, but it would be fair to say that Liverpool is now perceived more cultural than commercial. If the city wants to be front and centre of the Northern Powerhouse, then that has to change.

First off, we need to look at how we better manage the limited resources available and find a way of putting additional cash into economic development, business support, policy and research. That means a long overdue conversation about merging Liverpool Vision with the Local Enterprise Partnership; and reviewing the wisdom of huge spend on ‘showcase’ events such as the giants.

I’d rather see a Million pounds invested in policy and business case planning than on a three day ‘fun’ festival that may generate short term cash and a feel good factor, but leaves little behind in way of economic growth and legacy.

Liverpool City Region has much to learn from our friends at the other end of the M62 – but the starkest lesson for now is that government in Westminster, of whatever colour, will only hand over the cash when you can guarantee a Return on Investment and present a business case for additional resource. Saying ‘It’s not fair’ is just not good enough anymore.

As Sir Richard Leese said, having ‘fun’ is great; but having a job is often a pre requisite to enjoying yourself!

North needs to be united

Reflections Liv

We’re all in this together…

It is a phrase that the chancellor has trotted out regularly during his near five year tenure in number 11 Downing Street, to explain and justify the austerity programme he has embarked upon since taking office, but it is now a mantra that should be adopted by northern cities as the devolution bandwagon continues to gather speed – but with only Manchester in a position to take full advantage of the progressive plans that are being presented.

I have had the opportunity of speaking with both the Leader and the chief executive of Manchester City Council in recent weeks, and they are naturally delighted with a ‘Devo Manc’ package that now gives them budgets, powers and responsibilities over a whole range of services including housing, health, business support and economic development; and following the budget on Thursday the local retention of business rates raised in Greater Manchester too.

But, far from cocking a snoop at their northern neighbours, who have failed miserably in grasping similar offers made to them by central government, Sir Richard Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein are desperate for others to ‘get with the programme.’

For, as Leese pointed out at the Northern Powerhouse dinner hosted by PwC in Manchester on Wednesday night, it will be much more difficult for any future government to dilute the Manchester devolution package if several others are enjoying the same or similar devolved powers.

He and Bernstein are also acutely aware of the need to connect the north far more effectively and efficiently through big infrastructure projects on road, as well as rail, if their city is to meet its full potential. And, they will also know that Manchester is now the undisputed capital of that Northern Powerhouse, meaning that they can be far more generous in supporting and ‘coaching’ other city regions to improve both in economic and governance terms.

To this end, I hope Leese and Bernstein continue to explain to Leeds and Liverpool that it is not only pragmatic to accept the notion of a directly elected leader to oversee and be accountable to the electorate for all the additional powers that are available, but it is, democratically, the right thing to do.

What government in its right mind would hand over billions of pounds in resources to a bunch of largely faceless councillors, who may or may not be in a leadership position in twelve months’ time, depending on the whims of not only the local electorate, but their own political group as well?

The idea that you can ask for radical changes to your power take, without accepting an equally radical change to your governance arrangements is clearly a nonsense.

Politicians in Merseyside and Yorkshire may cry ‘it’s not fair’ – but without any movement on the governance agenda from them, then it is most certainly right.