Greater Liverpool needs a Seventh Leader

Liverpool Seventh leader

One of the details of the deal that Greater Manchester has done with government to achieve its outstanding devolution package is that the Combined Authority will appoint an interim ‘eleventh leader’ who will chair the organisation through to the transition that will see the city region elect a metro mayor.

It has been largely assumed that the ‘interim’ chairman would come from the existing group of council leaders who make up the Combined Authority. However I understand that it is now more likely that an additional person will be appointed to head the organisation for the next two years.

This got me thinking about the impasse that has been reached here in the Liverpool city region, and whether the appointment of a ‘seventh leader’ for our Combined Authority may assist in breaking through what is becoming another bun fight among the six men who currently run Merseyside. This latest Liverpool drama, with the pro and anti- metro mayor campaigns becoming increasingly vociferous and antagonistic, has left the rest of us as frustrated by-standers who can only watch with a combination of admiration and disappointment as the civic leaders of Manchester trail blaze on the devolution agenda; whilst Liverpool’s six Labour leaders fall out very publically on an almost daily basis.

What value could a ‘seventh’ leader add? Well perhaps if it was the right personality they could act as a much needed negotiator in an increasingly bitter battle that sees Liverpool and Sefton up against Wirral, St Helens, Halton and Knowsley in an almighty row over the notion of a metro mayor for Greater Liverpool.

A new face, a fresh pair of eyes, and if at all possible a character who would command the respect of all parties would surely only help what is becoming a debilitating disagreement among the city region leadership.

Identifying who that man or woman is and getting unanimous support for that person could prove as equally fractious, but I think it’s worth a discussion. There are certainly no shortage of candidates, though they may not thank me for suggesting their involvement in what external observers perceive as a ‘permanent and typical Liverpool problem’.

The MP for Wirral West and Employment Minister Esther McVey has the ear of ministers and would be well placed to act as an influential and, in the Labour leader’s case, non-partisan chair. She could give the Combined Authority the benefit of her ‘inside’ knowledge as to what Chancellor Osborne really needs to relinquish additional powers and resources; and draw on her experience as an entrepreneur in the city region when she will well recall the bewilderment the private sector feels when this type of nonsensical row is going on.

Another potential parliamentarian who would be eminently qualified to play a part in progressing the devolution debate is Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman. Currently the well- respected chair of the influential Transport select committee in Westminster, as the former Leader of Lancashire County Council and a strong advocate of regional devolution for the Northwest over a twenty year period, there are few politicians who know their way around local government and the potential prize- and pitfalls- of the devolution deal that is being offered than Mrs Ellman.

Of course a less radical approach would be to appoint an individual already involved in the existing structures of Merseyside governance, and that would open the door for the chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership Robert Hough, or the talented head of Mersey Travel Councillor Liam Robinson.

The chances of this ‘seventh leader’ option being adopted are slim, to say the least. But in the absence of any positive movement on an issue that is the most important the city region will face politically in a generation, we need to do something that will break the existing log-jam. Does anyone else have a better idea?

Look at Manchester – and weep

Devo Manc

The Autumn Statement from the Chancellor on Wednesday provided yet more good news for the city of Manchester.

Following the recent ‘Devo Manc’ deal that delivered the Greater Manchester region with a significant devolution of powers with over a billion pounds of investment to match, George Osborne announced additional benefits to what he clearly sees as the hub of the Northern Powerhouse , with plans for the establishment of a huge theatre – named the Factory after Tony Wilson’s legendary label; a £235million national advanced materials centre, the Sir Henry Royce Institute, which will be set up at Manchester University; and a whole range of infrastructure projects around road and rail that will directly benefit the Manchester city region.

There were some crumbs off the table, by comparison, for Liverpool, Leeds and Lancashire – but once again the big winner was Manchester with an early Christmas gift from the Chancellor that is worth an estimated £1.3billion.

Rather than be envious of this remarkable deal, struck largely by Manchester Labour politicians with a Tory Chancellor, other northern cities and regions need to finally wake up and learn the lessons that Sir Richard Leese, Sir Howard Bernstein et al have been teaching us for twenty years or more.

City regions and county’s work ‘better together’. They can produce cohesive and consistent policy and strategy proposals that are then efficiently delivered. The economic benefits are tangible. The political fall outs are negligible, and anyway are always kept private.

Whilst Leeds comforted itself with the promise from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that it could have devolution without signing up to a ‘Metro Mayor’ (another broken promise Nick?) and Liverpool continues to indulge in a parochialism in politics that is more akin to the practices of a Parish Council than a super Combined Authority, the Chancellor and his Treasury officials took a look at the northern landscape and decided that, Manchester aside, the North simply isn’t mature enough to be trusted with a huge chunk of devolution and cash.

Lancashire’s civic leaders are at least now talking to one another, although there are still threats of UDI from places like Chorley and the Fylde, whilst West Lancashire is flirting with Liverpool and some in the East of the county delude themselves that splitting from the rest of Lancashire would be a genuine option.

By next May, devolution will be a big part of all the major parties agendas. By then it is imperative that the rest of the north gets its act together and has a narrative in place to take maximum advantage of whatever devolved powers and resources are on offer.

A ‘Me Too’ approach is clearly not going to be enough, and it is now crucial that the public and private sectors come together in each region to work up plans that will convince Westminster leaders and officials that we have the maturity to recognise the need for unity, innovation and reform of local governance structures.

If that doesn’t happen, we won’t just have a north-south divide; but a two speed north of England, where Manchester powers ahead, leaving the rest to watch and weep.

What’s in a name?


There has been a bit of controversy of late in Liverpool with news that a new networking brand ‘Twit Faced’ was about to launch in the city.

Established in Manchester, Twit Faced is organised by a bunch of colourful entrepreneurs, largely from the creative sector of town, and the purpose of the quarterly Friday night out is for business people to come together, let their hair down, have a good time, and, possibly, make some useful business contacts in the process.

Some in Liverpool have suggested that the brand encourages irresponsible drinking behaviour and alcoholism! The same folk who have been pretending for years that Downtown’s very own ‘Sexy Networking’ brand is in some way an open door for sexual predators.

These prudish critics have never bothered to come to a Sexy Networking evening in the ten years we have been hosting them – nor I guess a Twit Faced event in Manchester either– but on the back of what are very clearly tongue in cheek brand names they feel able to take cheap shots (forgive the pun), criticise and make all sorts of false assumptions and accusations.

Comparing Sexy Networking to some sort of cattle market; or Twit Faced to a drink till you drop beer fest is akin to claiming that the Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Eat and Greet’ event promotes obesity.

These are simply brand names that are attempting to stand out from a crowded and, sadly, largely stale, male and pale business networking circuit. Whilst Downtown, Sexy Networking and all, celebrated a decade of activity earlier this year, over 80 networking ‘brands’ have been a gone in the city of Liverpool alone. Many networking platforms in Leeds, Lancashire and Manchester have crashed and burnt too.

Stale cucumber sandwiches, a warm glass of house wine and some stale nibbles in a room full of grey suited blokes is far more offensive networking experience to me than a colourful brand name.

For the 200 plus business folk who attend these ‘edgy’ entitled events, they serve a social and business purpose and there is nothing wrong with that. If you don’t like the name of the event, then don’t attend. But don’t be making things up and making assumptions that you simply cannot back up either. And here’s a thought – try setting up a half decent business networking event yourself, and see how you get on. As I said earlier, many, many have tried – and failed miserably!

Sexy Networking won’t be here forever – but it will never and has never been a platform for lewd behaviour anymore than Stamford Bridge was a football venue where you could go and enjoy a quick grope because Ruud Gullit introduced ‘Sexy Football’ to Chelsea.

I probably won’t attend Twit Faced if and when it does launch in Liverpool. But good luck to it, because the twenty-something entrepreneurs who are emerging as the future businesses of tomorrow are probably looking for something different, something new – and this could be it.

Meanwhile, my Downtown events team will be spending this afternoon coming up with another dynamic programme of events for 2015 that I promise you it will be as eclectic, entertaining, exciting and effective as ever. I look forward to seeing you at some of them next year.

An audience with Sir Richard Leese

Richard Leese

Downtown members were among a small group of business people invited to Manchester Town Hall this week to meet with city leader Sir Richard Leese to discuss the Devo Manc deal.

He is an impressive character, Manchester’s head political honcho, who has masterminded his city regions development and growth masterfully in partnership with his chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein for over twenty years now.

Indeed, he reminded his audience on Tuesday that though the Scottish referendum on independence had possibly accelerated the process of the devolution deal Manchester has secured, the city region had been working on winning such a package for many years now.

Leese was clearly more interested in the additional powers and resources that this ‘settlement’ with Chancellor George Osborne and Westminster provides, rather than the establishment of a Metro Mayor, and he made it clear that only the creation of this post allowed Manchester to unlock the significant wave of new powers that were announced a fortnight ago.

He conceded that other city regions would inevitably win more powers from Whitehall in the coming months and years, as the ‘English votes for English issues’ debate gathers momentum. But he warned that without a recognition that a directly elected figurehead was required to oversee these new powers, then other city regions will have to accept a diluted version of the Manchester deal.

He was also quick to defend the potential challenge of a ‘two speed’ Northwest emerging, with Manchester clearly in the ‘box seat’ to attract and win not only extra government monies, but private sector investment too. It was up to the Liverpool’s and the Lancashire’s to get their act together and catch up. We had to go at the pace of the fastest and most advanced region he argued – and he is right.

If Devo Manc doesn’t give the surrounding city and county regions the kick they need to focus on working in a cohesive and co-ordinated way, you have to wonder if anything ever will.

Leese also expressed the view that for Manchester this is just the beginning. The city wants to make further progress on the devolution agenda, and that lobbying and campaigning process will be helped by having a directly elected figurehead at its helm.

Exciting times for Manchester. Let’s make sure Lancashire and Liverpool are not left behind.

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.