VALENTINE’S DAY: NO BREXIT LOVE IN OR MASSACRE.

 

CLOCK TICKING.

Valentine’s Day provides journalists with endless chances to write up next week’s Brexit developments as love ins or massacres. It will probably be neither as Mrs May continues to run down the clock.

The EU is rightly unlikely to cave in to demands by a faction of one party in Britain demanding that a guarantee against rampant smuggling across the Irish border should be indefinite if needed. They take that view both to protect the integrity of the Single Market and because they know that if they concede something to the European Research Group (ERG) of extreme Brexiteers, they will be back for more.

If only the People’s Vote/No To No Deal groups of MPs had half the organisational ability of the ERG! These MPs have been all over the place proposing different amendments. Tory Remainers couldn’t wait to scuttle back to party loyalty rather than press their case. Labour MPs attempt to walk the tightrope have alienated the vast number of Remain party members. Now several them are thinking of taking the Maygeld, being bought off with ill defined amounts of money for their left behind constituencies.

What a way to make regional policy! Mrs May has been distinctly cool on the Northern Powerhouse because it was the idea of her enemy George Osborne. We’ve also had a patchwork of Local Enterprise Partnerships, none of which have been as effective as the Regional Development Agencies. They were bodies that drove effective investment alongside the European Union’s regional funds. Sweep away the RDAs and EU and replace them with backroom deals between short sighted Labour MPs dealing with a Prime Minister who could be out on her ear within weeks.

DRIVEN MAN.

So how is this all seen from a Lancashire business point of view? Downtown held an event this week in Preston where, not surprisingly, the main call was for certainty. The Tories should be worried about losing their reputation for being business friendly. There is a growing view that party interest is being put above the need for firms to make plans.

Our guest was Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council. A marmite figure for sure, but one must marvel at his resilience. He has been under police investigation for five years, an intolerable period for anyone to endure, especially when you are leading a major county council.

Nevertheless, he was able to tell local businesses that a local resilience forum had been set up in the event of a No Deal Brexit. It was mainly focused on issues like the use of Heysham port, traffic congestion, and the need for EU care workers to continue to support the council’s Adult Services. Driver was in no doubt Brexit should be carried out or the consequences for democracy would be profound.

We covered several other issues including the Northern Powerhouse. Local Enterprise Partnerships and local council finance, but as ever Brexit crowds everything out in this blog and I will return to those topics in future weeks.

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IKEA OUT, DEVOLUTION IN FOR LANCS ?

JUST JIM 304.

 

 

Was it the shock of IKEA pulling out of a major investment in the Cuerden Retail Park near Preston, that has banged Lancashire heads together?

Weeks after the furniture giant turned its back on being the anchor tenant, comes the news that a Lancashire devolution deal might be on the cards after all.

In the run up to the International Festival of Business getting underway in Liverpool next week, I am looking at the economic outlook in the North West. We’ve already seen that Manchester is shaping itself for an economy based on its increasingly young and skilled workforce. The Liverpool City Region has put on a growth spurt that compares favourably with its rivals. So, what about Lancashire and its city of Preston?

In launching his latest devolution drive, the county council leader Geoff Driver said, “for too long we’ve seen money pouring into Manchester and Merseyside, now is the time to create jobs for our residents.”

The link between job creation and devolution is not always clear but greater collaboration between the multiplicity of local councils in Lancashire in areas like transport, jobs and housing would be no bad thing.

But we have been here many times before. Only last November devolution talks collapsed when four councils, including Lancashire County Council, pulled out of talks. The sticking point was the government’s desire for an elected mayor in return for government devolution cash. It is not clear if that demand has gone away.

There’s another problem. Downtown has argued for years that Lancashire is over governed with a dozen district councils, two unitaries and the county council. The opportunity for disunity is ever present. Even now Fylde district council is not part of the renewed bid for devolution. It is also reported that the councils are reluctant to call this a Combined Authority which suggests this is a “toe in the water” initiative rather than a confident stride forward.

With that in mind, we need to look at tangible signs of economic improvement centred on Preston while we wait to see if a devolution deal is secured and afterwards jobs follow.

The city has attracted considerable praise for spending locally. For instance, in 2013 it found that only a fraction of the £1bn spent by the city’s institutions like the university, police, hospital and housing associations went to Preston businesses. Because of the local spend Preston Model a £600,000 printing contract for Lancashire Police was kept in the city and local farmers benefitted from the £1.6m county council food budget. Investment from Lancashire Council’s pension fund may soon be helping to circulate wealth in the city rather than extracting it. Ideas about legal requirements on employers to use local labour or procure goods locally are more controversial but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has expressed his enthusiasm for an approach that “democratises wealth”.

Meanwhile Preston, like everywhere else, is battling with the retail revolution. It may benefit from IKEA’s decision not to go ahead with its Cuerden development. Increased construction costs were partly blamed. The company is looking at smaller city centre-based units.

With the University of Central Lancashire in its midst and British Aerospace at Salmesbury and Warton nearby, Preston has a bright future providing the government navigates the Brexit rapids successfully.

That matter will preoccupy next week’s International Festival of Business.

Follow me @JimHancockUK