Hancock’s Half Page




The decade that’s nearing its end has been one of the most exciting in British politics. The demise of New Labour, followed by the first coalition government since the war, then the short-lived Tory government and the wretched EU referendum, followed by another hung parliament with the Democratic Unionists holding the whip hand.

Don’t expect the same excitement from now till 2030. I say that because of events this week. First, we had Lib Dem leader Vince Cable attacking the elderly for betraying the young over Brexit. I am second to none in wanting to stay in the EU, but Vince just sounded bitter. His speech in Southport lacked any ideas for getting the major change in public opinion that it will take to get parliament to stop Brexit in its tracks. I’m afraid it’s a long way back still for the Lib Dems.

Then we had Jeremy Corbyn, not once but twice, misjudging the public mood on the Russian poison outrage. The only thing to do at this point of national emergency is to rally patriotically behind the government. Making points about domiciled Russians donations to the Tories is not for now. For the Labour leader then to call for us to hand over a sample of the poison to the Russians was laughable. By the time they had processed it through a lab next to the one where they make drugs for their athletes, they would announce that they had traced it to British labs and we were trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal to increase tension with Russia. Corbyn and the Labour Party, increasingly under the heel of the Unite union are unelectable in a General Election at the moment.

Then we come to Theresa May. Most commentators wrote her off last autumn, but I always doubted that she would be shifted so easily. Up till now she has been held in place by her opponents being unable to choose an obvious successor and also because who really wants the job of conducting the messy Brexit talks?

However, another reason for expecting Mrs May to last a long time is emerging. Her ultra-cautious approach to the talks might just get Brexit delivered but also there’s nothing like an attack on this country to strengthen the position of the Prime Minister. The Falklands war saved Mrs Thatcher and the Russian poison crisis is doing a similar job for Mrs May. Let us hope her measures against Moscow are fully supported by our allies.



The Chancellor continues to attract my admiration. I like his steady approach in a Cabinet that contains the erratic Boris Johnson and Brexit fanatics like Liam Fox.

He was wise to scrap the system of two budgets a year which left business uncertain. His low-key spring statement brought some better news on the economic front. There is a current budget surplus for the first time since 2002 and there is nearly full employment. However, the pressure of austerity on local councils, elderly care and the NHS are remorseless and the growth rate of 1.5% is inadequate to help with funding public services.

More money is being put in to the apprenticeship scheme, but will smaller firms embrace it? The revaluation of business rates is being brought forward to 2021 but many feel that move will not address fundamental flaws in the system.

Follow me @JimHancockUK




Whether it’s the power to direct the skills agenda that would best benefit northern business or yet another report recommending northern rail between Manchester and Leeds (HS3), there a feeling abroad that devolution is a half-hearted business as far as the government is concerned.

That feeling emerged from two excellent Downtown in Business events that I attended this week, along with another one in Manchester looking forward to next week’s MIPIM gathering in Cannes and the sub regional mayor’s forthcoming crucial spatial strategy.

First up was the event with the two sub regional mayors. Andy Burnham has several frustrations. The Greater Manchester mayor believes the English regions are being ignored by the government in the Brexit talks. He wants HS2 and HS3 built at the same time but is dealing with organisations like Highways England and Network Rail that are not accountable locally.

Finally, Burnham thinks the Department for Education are as much use as a chocolate teapot when it comes to the skills agenda.

Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, shared the Downtown platform with Burnham and shares his frustration over the skills agenda. Both men want a clear pathway for youngsters who choose not to go to university, to access the vocational training that will lead to good jobs without student debt round their necks.

Burnham claimed that the lack of skills meant £40,000 computer coding jobs were going unfilled in Manchester but youngsters in Oldham and Rochdale weren.t being given the vision to apply for them.

The route to university is clear but the vocational path is not, and the Department for Education is to blame, according to the mayors because they are not in touch with local needs.

And in case Whitehall believes this is a Labour winge, apparently Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street is equally critical.

The mayors should be given control of post 16 education.


At least Manchester and Liverpool have devolution deals, the already chaotic picture in Lancashire went from bad to worse this week when Pendle announced it wanted to break away from Lancashire and the Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, opined that it would be a good idea.

Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire, was not amused. It is a distraction from his efforts to try to get the county to unite around a devolution proposal that would be lead by whoever was leader of Lancashire County Council. Driver told the Downtown lunch that it had to be that way. The county’s budget was £750m compared to a district council like South Ribble that was administering £13m.

His economic case is sound, but I fear that the districts will not agree to county leadership in this form. It might work if there was a leader of the Lancashire Combined Authority that could be from anywhere presiding over a Cabinet that was weighted to reflect the heft of the county council.


This is another area unlikely to agree a devolution deal. Meanwhile Warrington itself goes from strength to strength. It is determined not to be overwhelmed by its proximity to the Manchester and Liverpool sub regions.

Business networking that is commonplace in the cities, has been piecemeal in Warrington….till now. Let’s welcome The Business Exchange by Warrington&Co which will see events and get togethers with the lively group of entrepreneurs in the town


Perhaps Warrington will soon be represented at MIPIM, the world’s property market, which meets in Cannes next week. Downtown hosted a preview of the event in Manchester which has had a presence at the resort for years. Simon Bedford of Deloitte and Tom Higgins of Laing O’ Rourke said the key value of MIPIM was that people there had time to network with each other and while final deals weren’t necessarily done, the initial approaches were certainly made on millions of pounds of property deals.

The panellists also gave their observations on the Greater Manchester economy that they said was buoyant despite Brexit doubts. Tom Higgins suggested that the London market had become saturated and investors were keen to put their money into the city centre. It was agreed that if families were going to be attracted to town centre living, councils would have a big part o play in providing schools and health centres.

Homes would need to be affordable, but land values were shooting up. Would home buyers benefit from streamlined off site house building methods? We’ll see.

There was recognition that the picture outside the city centre was more stressed with high streets suffering from the retail crisis brought on by on-line shopping.

Andy Burnham’s spatial strategy, expected shortly, would need to address the needs of Bolton, Rochdale, Stockport etc.

So, the current comment on devolution and the Northern Powerhouse is that progress is patchy.

Follow me @JimHancockUK





I remember when seat belts and breathalysers were regarded as a gross infringement of motorist’s freedom. Smoke filled offices and pubs are of more recent memory. Car drivers using mobile phones seem to be getting the message. In all these cases public opinion swiftly changed so that unbelted drivers texting at the wheel before drinking 4 pints in a pub now attract full scale public opprobrium.

Although a different issue, I believe that the campaign against single use plastic is rapidly taking off and very soon businesses that ignore the public’s demand to be more environmentally friendly will be in the minority. It will be cool to be plastic free or at least plastic less.

It was a point I put to the mayor of Greater Manchester at a BBC sustainability event this week. Andy Burnham is convening a summit shortly where he wants to get over the message to business that sustainability need not be another red tape burden but an opportunity. For instance, the retro fitting of Greater Manchester’s houses could create 50,000 jobs to insulate them. He wants the Combined Authority to beat the government’s target to be carbon neutral by 2050 by ten years. But he wants business to come up with the ideas. He says the days of political leaders setting targets with no idea about how they will be achieved are over.

It was significant that it was a BBC event because their Blue Planet series really sparked this change in attitude to plastic when the degree of pollution in our oceans was revealed.

It will be a challenge for the North’s large chemical industry but a spokesman at the conference for one of the chemical companies seemed prepared to embrace it. He said firms could use vegetable oils and investigate novel materials like algae.

Good for him, industry and the green movement need to work together.


Brexiteers regale us with the opportunities presented by our new global partners and the importance of China can’t be overlooked. But there was a major development in that country this week that we should all note. After the tyranny of Chairman Mao, the Chinese limited their leaders to two terms in office. Xi Jinping, the President of China has decided to scrap that and so could rule indefinitely.

It seems for the moment that those who had hoped that economic growth would be accompanied with more democracy in China are going to be disappointed.


As a supporter of a Division 1 team who can only gaze at the pots of gold enjoyed by the Premier League, can you forgive me with being a little irritated by Premier League fans bleating about inconvenient kick off times decreed by the TV companies. You Premier League fans enjoy the benefits of being able to sign the best players because of the money received from TV. The piper is entitled to call the tune.

Follow me @JimHancockUK





Former EU Commissioner Lord Peter Mandelson believes the impracticality of operating an EU border between the UK and Ireland will eventually lead to a united country. The forecast that economic reality will detach unionists from their loyalty to the UK is a bold one but was one of many interesting predictions and reflections on Brexit at a meeting at Manchester Metropolitan University this week.

We gathered as the disaster of Brexit continued to manifest itself. Rotterdam is set to be the new headquarters of the chemical giant Unilever if they move their head offices from Britain. Meanwhile the same port is recruiting hundreds of customs officers as the port manager reckons we will crash out of the EU.

Mandelson was speaking alongside a classic British mandarin, Sir Andrew Cahn, who had had three stints with European institutions in Brussels. Even as a strong remainer, I found his presentation hard to take. His analysis that we were making a disastrous mistake was right, but the tone would not have gone down well in the Leave areas of Rochdale and Oldham.

Before coming to the two men’s forecast of what the future might hold, there were some fascinating reflections on the past. Britain could have led European integration after the war, but Mandelson revealed the moment when we turned our back on the project. In 1950 his grandfather, Herbert Morrison, was standing in for the Prime Minister Clement Attlee. He was called out of a dinner to be asked if we wanted to join the European Coal and Steel Community (the precursor to the Common Market). He told his civil servant that he could see the advantages “but the Durham Miners will never stand for it.”

Suppose Morrison had resolved to positively sell the idea with enthusiasm and vision? But he was starting a gutless tradition that was followed by most political leaders in Britain of a half hearted or Eurosceptic approach to the EU. This even included Tony Blair, Mandelson’s explanation for this was that during the New Labour years, Europe was tenth in a list of people’s priorities.

Cahn said that Britain was never comfortable with the coalition mentality that prevails in Europe. Most governments are coalitions with compromise the way things are done in their own countries and in the EU.

Cahn forecast that we will be asking for a pick and mix approach in the final deal separating out issues like fishing, aviation and financial services. This is unlikely to commend itself to our negotiating partners. But Cahn also felt loose talk by Brexiteers about walking away with no deal would lead to a run on the markets and the probable fall of the government.

Cahn forecast that France would take a tough stance on our terms and the Germans would be less helpful than we thought. He felt we would end up with a deal that would leave us impoverished and embittered, with a period of great political instability.

It would be left to a new generation to pick up the mess and make Britain a member of an outer circle of states around a very united core of EU states.

It is a depressing forecast and one that could still be prevented if public opinion changes. There is a new Remain red bus going around London with a slogan asking if it is worth two billion a week to leave the EU. Get it up North!