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.

What next for Leeds United?

Leeds United

This week the unlikely pair of Watford and Bournemouth are celebrating their promotion from the Championship to the promised-land that is the Premier League.

Not the most fashionable of clubs, it is nevertheless refreshing to see unfancied teams succeeding and in the case of both newly promoted sides, it is fair to say that, Bournemouth, in particular, have enjoyed a real rags to riches journey over the past few years.

These two Cinderella clubs leave some genuine giants behind them for another season, none bigger than this city’s very own Leeds United.

At the seasons start I, as a glass half full kind of guy, blogged about reasons to be cheerful following the installation of a new owner for the club. However, without going into the unfortunate detail surrounding the various controversies surrounding Massimo Cellino, 2014/15 has been another in a long line of wasted seasons at Elland Road.

Had Leeds picked up half as many points as their new owner has had in column inches they would have been crowned Champions by Christmas. As it is, the farcical nature of the off field antics of owner, injured players and the managerial turnstile that has apparently been installed at Elland Road – and it has been another false dawn; another frustrating nine months of football in a division that Leeds have been stranded in for far too long.

It has, of course, been worse, with the club spending a short time in the English leagues third tier for a period since its dramatic demise since the Premiership relegation of 2007. But that is no consolation for supporters who still hark back to memories of the halcyon days of Revie, Giles and Bremner; and in more recent times the Howard Wilkinson title winning team of 1991-92.

Average attendances are still a relatively healthy 25,000 plus, the away following is as passionate as ever, and the club still has a reputation in the English game that, with the right investment and management, would surely attract a crop of players decent enough to challenge for a place in the top league once again.

But that seems a million miles away, and Leeds fans will spend the summer worrying more about survival than they will dreaming about ‘doing a Bournemouth.’ It is a crying shame for the club, its fans, for football in general – and for the city’s economy too. Because Premier League football is huge business for our hospitality sector, and provides a massive boost to the city’s marketing potential and profile as well.

The sooner Leeds can get back on track and back where they belong, the better. But not even the optimists among us are holding our breath anymore.

What next for Leeds

Earlier this week Councillor Keith Wakefield announce his resignation as the leader of Leeds City Council. I have met Cllr Wakefield on several occasions, interviewed him at the very first Downtown Leeds policy forum, and always considered him to be a steady and thoroughly decent guy.

His introduction of Leeds & Partners, which replace Marketing Leeds and the ‘Love Leeds’ brand was, to put it mildly, hardly an unmitigated success; but the city has continued to enjoy economic growth, regeneration and attract investment during his tenure.

In more recent times, Wakefield has been at the heart of driving the devolution agenda in the Leeds city region. But he seemed reluctant to take the bold step of supporting calls for a city region mayor, and appeared to settle for a watered-down version of Devo Manc for Leeds and its neighbouring local government partners.

It will be interesting to see what change in direction a new leader will bring to the party, particularly in respect of that devolution initiative, which, whatever the result of next week’s election, will continue apace.

Cllr Wakefield plans to remain on the council, and I am sure all those associated with Downtown wish him all the very best for the future.

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.

Leeds needs a city vision

Leeds City

The announcement that Leeds & Partners will cease to be from next year, with the organisations activities and responsibilities being transferred to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), has been met with little surprise, and even less regret from the majority of business leaders in the city.

The organisation has had a controversial and rollercoaster two and a half year existence, with its high profile chief executive demonstrating an ability to be creative and ‘out there’ but less impressive, or perhaps bothered, at doing the local networking, schmoozing and charm offensive that is often as big a part of such a role – particularly if you are an ‘outsider’ as Londoner Lurene Joseph very clearly was.

It is a pity this innovative approach to inward investment, marketing and growth didn’t work in the way the city’s decision makers had obviously hoped, because actually Leeds, the city, needs a single, focussed entity to big up and major on the brand.

‘Live it, Love it’ may have ended up as an unloved slogan, but it was at least for Leeds and about Leeds. Can an organisation such as the LEP, which has a responsibility for the whole city region, really give Leeds the prominence and dominance that it deserves?

As Local Authority leaders from West Yorkshire dismiss calls for a ‘metro mayor’ in the hope that a different coalition with different demands will be running the Westminster show from May 2015 (good luck with that one), the region is in danger of losing its way with a confusion emerging about how it does see its future governance arrangements.

If the Combined Authority is to progress as the strategic body for the area, would it not have been the better organisation to place the Leeds & Partners work? Is Leeds accepting an ‘equal’ billing to their neighbouring authorities for a quiet life, in the hope that as the city growth agenda accelerates those neighbours will eventually see that the big city brand really is the only show in town? Would the council leadership, post the General Election, really set its face against the establishment of an elected mayor if they were offered the deal Manchester has secured?

All of these unanswered questions leave a huge uncertainty about what and where Leeds is at the moment, and uncertainty is never a great comforter to business. For what it’s worth, I think something with more clarity and purpose will emerge, but this needs to happen sooner rather than later.

The only consolation, and it is a small one, is that other city regions are struggling with similar challenges as ‘devolution’ becomes a genuine opportunity, rather than the political panacea it had been seen as for many a year. Liverpool’s mayor has fallen out with his Combined Authority, and they are having a right old bun fight on Merseyside as to the pros and cons of a mayoral model; in the Midlands, places like Wolverhampton want the additional power and resource, but are choking on the proposition of working in partnership with the big city that is Birmingham.

In the end, as Rochdale, Wigan, Stockport, Trafford and even the city of Salford can testify, only when a city region settles on the major city being the hub, the attack brand and the economic driver can a city region progress. The sooner the civic leaders of West Yorkshire reach that same conclusion, and truly accept Leeds as the attack brand in this part of the world, the better.