LIVERPOOL BUSINESS WANTS END OF POWER BATTLE

 

An agonised call for the elected mayors of Merseyside to stop their power battles and get on with promoting the city region was made at a Downtown event in the city this week.

Many of the movers and shakers in the area were kind enough to give their time to look at the city’s development in the ten years since Capital of Culture and what the next decade has in store.

The overriding desire was for Liverpool City mayor Joe Anderson and City Region mayor Steve Rotheram to end their rivalry, agree on who does what, and get on with attracting business and tourism to the area.

The main frustration focuses on the many agencies that are doing bits and pieces to attract jobs and visitors. The demand is for one point of contact, particularly for tourism. The consensus was that this is a job for the city region. Acknowledging that Liverpool is the brand, it was felt that the city region should have this strategic role.

The way in which successive governments have devolved power in the UK is partly to blame. At the Downtown meeting, it was pointed out that the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly could put major funding into attracting business and tourism. Aberdeen and Cardiff are building new conference centres on the back of that. In England, limited power and money has been given to a complex model of Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities. In Merseyside and Greater Manchester, the structure of elected city regional mayors over the top of the proud cities of Manchester and Liverpool is a recipe for rivalry. There are some signs of tension in Greater Manchester but the ten districts generally rub along together. Merseyside on the other hand has had a controversial history at local government level with Wirral and Southport wanting to break away, not to mention the Militant era. The business community had hoped all that was well in the past. Liverpool is transformed compared to twenty years ago but this model of city and city region mayor couldn’t have been better designed to revive the old dysfunctional problems.

Added to the structural problems we have two strong personalities. Joe Anderson, passionate for his city, has done great work since 2010 but he wanted to move on to the wider city region stage. In his way was his old friend Steve Rotheram. A way out would have been for Joe to take over from Steve as MP for Walton. That elegant solution was blocked by Unite The Union who wanted their man in Walton.

Now business people in Liverpool are confused about the powers of both mayors at a time when they know that more will be expected of them in terms of promoting jobs and tourism as the cuts continue to bite in the public sector.

The Downtown event concluded that the next ten years are going to be harder after the rapid progress of the last decade. Specific attention was paid to the continuing problems of accessing the city centre from the M62 and the need to fill hotels during the week. In this respect the city seems to have an opposite problem to many other places who find attracting weekend guests a challenge.

One of the most striking views at the Downtown meeting was that, in respect of tourists visiting Britain, the national image was being tarnished by Brexit. It was thought this could be an opportunity for the Liverpool City Region to promote itself separately.

Let’s hope the mayoral problems can be sorted out because the meeting agreed that the Liverpool City Region with that to-die-for waterfront, friendly people and the enduring power of the Beatles gives it potentially great prospects for the future.

Follow me @JimHancockUK.

 

 

LEEDS AND LIVERPOOL RACE FOR POWERS

 

NEXT CITY DEALS ?

Following Greater Manchester’s devolution deal, the race by other northern combined authorities is on with a vengeance. In Leeds last week the Deputy Prime Minister announced that packages for Leeds and Sheffield would be agreed before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Lord Heseltine is trying to bang heads together in Liverpool which is displaying its usual propensity for internal bickering. Meanwhile talks are under way amongst Lancashire’s myriad number of councils to try and get the first powerhouse deal outside the major cities.

 

I have attended a number of devolution conferences in the last week and watched nearly all of the BBC’s regional debates across England. My worst fears have been confirmed. Apart from the city regionalists, people from smaller towns and rural areas are hopelessly divided on what devolution they want. There is no clarity on how to solve the issue of English votes for English laws. There was virtually no debate on how an elected Lords could represent the North and not just the South East.

 

So it looks as if the Tories get back we will have piecemeal devolution to a number of city regions with little for the rest of the North which will be left with its confusing patchwork of district, met and county councils and ad hoc bodies created to deal with major infrastructure issues. Labour’s promise of a comprehensive constitutional convention seems worth voting for.

 

A couple of final thoughts on the position of Leeds and Liverpool. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told us in Leeds that we should not presume that Leeds (and Sheffield) would have to have elected mayors. This seems strange when the government, in the shape of George Osborne, insisted on it in Greater Manchester as a democratic requirement. Will Leeds and Sheffield get less powers in return for no elected mayor? Is Clegg doing his own thing in Yorkshire? This is what happens with a piecemeal approach. Different strokes for different folks ends in chaos.

 

In Liverpool Jo Anderson continues with his schizophrenic performance. He has used leadership and imagination to save the city’s libraries but on the issue of devolution he is not handling things well. He needs to work with Phil Davies, the leader of the Combined Authority, not continue to make snide comments about part time politicians meeting every four weeks. Also his ambition to be the elected metro mayor takes no account of the democratic processes of the Labour Party. If an elected mayor was on offer, Phil Davies or Jane Kennedy (the current Merseyside Police Commissioner) might at least want to offer an alternative to Joe’s coronation. The important thing here is that all the infighting is putting off the government from granting the Liverpool City Region its powers. It is also fuelling the prejudices of those who claim that nothing really changes in Liverpool. It is manifestly not true but people need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.

 

UKIP FOX SHOT

 

The much derided European Court of Justice has come to David Cameron’s rescue. So we can stop benefit tourism after all. It is a much exaggerated problem anyway. Most foreign workers want to come here make our sandwiches, pick our potatoes and pay their taxes.

 

The interesting question is whether it will slow UKIP’s momentum in next week’s Rochester by election. At the moment it looks as if the reckless Reckless will win. The Tory candidate is very poor. If UKIP do win, the Tories need to steady their nerve and pro European Conservatives need to have the guts to speak up for the EU and not just leave it to Ken Clarke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNIVERSAL CREDIT TIMEBOMB

 WOULD YOU CREDIT IT

This was to be the month when the government rolled out universal credit across the nation. Six benefits merged into one with employers keeping the tax authorities up to date with rapidly changing staff earnings on a real time computer system.

 

In fact the scheme has only had a full trial in the small Pennine town of Ashton Under Lyne. Recently that was cautiously extended to Warrington, Wigan and Oldham. Why the timidity by Iain Duncan Smith? After all the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions likes to turn up the volume.

 

What’s happened in Ashton gives us a clue. 78% of claimants needed help filling in the forms for relatively straightforward claims. The pilot schemes are not even attempting to deal with people with complex personal circumstances.

 

The big worry surrounds the ability of a major government computer system eventually to deal with the benefit claims of millions of people. It’s not only the numbers but the rapidly changing personal circumstances of people on zero hours contracts or temporary employment. It is going to place an extra burden on employers if it works well.

 

And if it doesn’t? The history of big government computer projects is not good. Remember the millions wasted trying to get all our health records onto one computer system.? The prospects are truly alarming. Thousands of people could be left with the wrong amount of money or none at all. The political backlash could be severe. The Chancellor George Osborne knows this. There was widespread speculation earlier this year that he wanted The Quiet Man removed from the DWP so that the policy could be reviewed.

 

As it is Iain Duncan Smith remains, blaming his officials as the National Audit Office says the programme suffers from “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance.”

 

BRANT BLOW.

 

Joe Anderson is the bluff, can-do, in your face elected mayor of Liverpool. Paul Brant was his deputy and in charge of the finances. He brought a lawyer’s calm deliberation to the job. He reassured people that the “wild” had been taken out of this western city for good.

 

His shock resignation for personal reasons is a major blow for Joe who was in fine form at a Downtown event in Manchester days before Brant’s departure.

 

His message was that Liverpool is as business friendly as the noisy neighbours down the M62. The problem for Joe is that Manchester keeps getting the big spondoolies. The £800m joint deal between Manchester Airports Group and the Chinese government was the most eye catching announcement from the Chancellor’s week long visit to China.

 

CAMERON IN LEEDS.

 

The government is clearly on a charm offensive in the north. It’s easy to see why. Pollster Peter Kellner this week published a survey showing the entrenched view of northerners that the Tories don’t care about our part of the country.

 

While the Chancellor headed for Beijing and Hong Kong, Cameron was in Halifax and Leeds. He said he was convinced the North/ South divide could be bridged and reiterated his support for HS2 in achieving that.

 

GLITTERING NIGHT.

 

Well done Rainford Solutions of St Helens which has won a major contract with CERN, the Swiss scientific plant researching the Higgs particle. It is named after Professor Peter Higgs who for forty years has led the search for this particle which explains why atoms and stars exist. It is arguably the most exciting discovery in theoretical physics ever.

 

So I felt really privileged to be in his presence as he got an honorary degree at Manchester University this week.

He was in stellar company because also honoured was Professor Mario Molina who discovered the danger of chlorofluorocarbons which was destroying the ozone layer increasing the threat of skin cancer.

 

The quartet of honorary graduates was completed by Frances O’Grady, the first woman General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and Sir Bobby Charlton.

 

A great night for Manchester University and its Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell.

 

 

THE TOWER OF LONDON

This historic building has been at the centre of my thoughts this week for two completely different reasons.

 

The discovery of the bones of Good King Richard is inevitably linked to the story of the Princes in the Tower. There is no proof Richard killed them by the way. Instead the king should be remembered for being a damn good governor of the North of England. We could do with him now. However I must remember this is principally a business blog in the present time.

 

Even with that in mind, the Tower of London loomed up this week because the Liverpool Embassy in London is located near the Tower. Liverpool in London, to give it its more correct title, is a project to give entrepreneurs from the city a base to work from and to signal a confident Liverpool open for business.

 

It opened its doors in Royal Mint Court two years ago and the original backers of the project could have been heading for the Tower if some of the critics had been proved right. A gimmick that won’t last would be a polite way of summing up the reaction of the sceptical.

 

In 2011 the inspiration for the idea came from Guy Wallis a senior partner in the Liverpool offices of the business law firm DWF. It was backed by our own Frank McKenna and Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool Council.

 

Two years on the project has generated £1m additional sales for Liverpool companies, and attracted £20m of new investment. Those are the hard figures but it is in the intangible networking opportunities that the project has justified its funding by the council and private sector. £58 pounds return for every £1 invested according to its backers

 

The ringmaster is Chris Hayes, the Liverpool in London manager. He arranges quarterly networking events, dinners and hundreds of one to one meetings between Liverpool business people and potential clients in London. You can use the facilities free for a day but Chris Hayes wants people to sign up to the business club thereafter.

 

The private sector have stepped up to a limited extent to back Liverpool in London but it is still a 70/30 split in favour of the city council. As we know the authority is facing mega financial pressures and it would be handy if more firms came on board. That said Mayor Joe Anderson was in upbeat mood when he spoke at a second anniversary event for the embassy this week.

 

He announced that funding was secure through the next two years and he hoped for a couple of years after that, but he wanted more people to use the facilities at Royal Mint Court. He sees Liverpool in London playing a vital part in getting over the good news about major capital projects happening in Liverpool and hinted that a major announcement was imminent on the £5.5bn Liverpool Waters project.

 

A number of Liverpool business people spoke of their practical experience of using the facility in the capital. John Porter of Crosby Associates told of his success in developing the mobile app used by the London Chamber of Commerce and said it was as a result of having a base in the capital.

 

Liverpool Vision are strong supporters of the project and their flamboyant CEO Max Steinberg says Liverpool in London will be crucial to the projection of next year’s International Festival of Business being held on both sides of the Mersey.

 

Our own Frank McKenna pleaded for more positive coverage of this and other projects in the local press which he claimed was sometimes sabotaging jobs coming to the city by its coverage.

 

The event ended with Guy Wallis reflecting on the success of his vision and hoping that Mayor Joe Anderson could meet Mayor Boris Johnson on Tower Bridge to mark the success of Liverpool in London. So come on Boris you owe us that.