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.

 

 

HILLSBOROUGH: WILL THE STATE FAIL AGAIN?

The massive failure of the institutions of the state revealed by Bishop James Jones’ team must not fail again. There must be new inquests. There must be prosecutions for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But will it happen? The Hillsborough families have no faith in judges, police, coroners, some senior politicians and some journalists.

 

It will take the delivery of justice, individuals being held to account to begin to rebuild trust.

 

The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings are a vindication of the extraordinary persistence of the families in the face of a whole range of public institutions which failed them. The list is long. The stadium without a safety certificate, failure of police control on the day, the poor medical attention, the lies about the fans, the police cover up, the inadequate Taylor and Stewart Smith reports, the disgraceful inquests, the failure of the judicial system during the private prosecutions and not least, it must be said, an often unspoken wish of some people not directly affected for Hillsborough to be forgotten as an episode from a dark time in Britain’s history.

 

To try and explain (but not excuse) this establishment failure and deceit on such a large scale we have to remember the political world as it was in 1989. The Thatcher government was in the process of introducing legislation to make football fans carry ID membership cards. It was a daft idea but it was in response to rampant soccer hooliganism.

 

Hillsborough, without a safety certificate, was not alone in being a dump. Facilities in our ageing Victorian football grounds showed contempt for the fans comfort and many responded accordingly. Most stood and you still hear nostalgic calls for “the right to stand”. Let’s hope those cries are silenced now.

 

Also in 1989 memories were very fresh about the Miner’s Strike and the crucial role played by the police on behalf of the Thatcher government. Since the Independent Panel reported there has been a sharp exchange about this between two former Home Office Ministers. Labour’s Jack Straw claims the police had developed a sense of immunity from criticism after the strike, while Tory David Mellor criticised the remark and pointed out that the Tories had introduced major legislation on the police.

 

Not only do we need prosecutions, we also need a change of culture from within the organs of the state. We like to think we have moved on from the 1980s in terms of accountability. One barrister recalled this week that back then if you suggested in court that a police officer might be lying, you’d get short shrift from the judge. But has the mindset of those in the know really changed?

 

Tony Blair brought in the Freedom of Information Act, but now calls it his biggest mistake. The new post of Chief Coroner to oversee the creaking coroner’s system was nearly scrapped by the Coalition Government and there are moves to increase secrecy in cases involving national security.

 

Some politicians have emerged with credit from this sorry business. The Home Secretary Theresa May has redeemed her promise to allow all documents to be put before the Independent Panel. Local politicians like Leigh’s Andy Burnham and Walton’s Steve Rotheram have been outstanding.

 

But for a long time many politicians gave the impression that they wanted Hillsborough to go away. Jack Straw asked Lord Justice Stewart Smith to reinvestigate the tragedy in 1997. The inquiry revealed little. When asked this week if Stewart Smith had access to all the documents, Straw said “he wasn’t certain”. He was only the Home Secretary for heavens sake and should have ordered the full document disclosure that has, at last, been so effective.

 

I really hope the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General realise they have to be proactive now and the families don’t have to drag justice out of the institutions of the state that have failed them so badly so far.

 

 

FOLLOWING LORRAINE

A source at Jaguar Land Rover tells me that Lorraine Rogers has a new job with them. The former Chief Executive of The Mersey Partnership apparently has two roles. One as a global brand director and another taking care of royal protocol.  Zara Phillips is a brand ambassador for the Halewood produced Range Rover Evoque.

Rogers resigned earlier this year as Chief Executive of the Mersey Partnership, paving the way for it to be absorbed into the new Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

I’m told a local newspaper is currently trying to get Lorraine to spill the beans on how hard it is for women to provide leadership in the macho world of Merseyside politics and business.

Tributes were paid to the work of The Mersey Partnership at the first meeting of the stakeholders in the Liverpool LEP this week.
The LEP is now in the hands of Robert Hough, a man vastly experienced in the politics of the North West.

He faces a big challenge in establishing the Liverpool LEP as the agency best placed to represent the interests of the city region stretching from Runcorn and Southport to Wirral and St Helens.

It’s not an easy task now that Liverpool has an elected mayor seeking to expand his influence. Also on the territory is Liverpool Vision, an agency that many see as the best vehicle to promote tourism across the city region rather than the LEP.

Not that the Liverpool LEP lacks people to exert its influence. Unlike the tiny organisations that run LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, the Merseyside operation has taken in most of the 55 staff from TMP.

It was therefore ironic that David Frost, the head of the national LEP Network, should choose this occasion to call for better resourcing of LEPs across the country.

When the government recklessly scrapped the North West’s regional structure, they pledged that the LEPs would be free of the costly bureaucracy that, they claimed, was a feature of the development agencies.
But two years on here was Mr Frost telling delegates that LEPs couldn’t drive economic success on a shoestring. Key staff were needed for marketing and research.

I’m sure he’s right that for LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire to become really effective, you do need people on the ground. So business needs to put its hand in its pocket because the public sector is skint.

My quarrel is with the government who thought that such organisations needed neither funding nor people.

Robert Hough’s task as chairman is to get members who signed up for The Mersey Partnership to remain with the new organisation. He told them it would be worth it as the Liverpool LEP concentrates on key sectors like Low Carbon, the Super Port, advanced manufacturing and the visitor economy.

He forecast that new activities could be given
to our LEPs. Lord Heseltine was looking at giving them a role in venture capital funding.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson pledged cooperation with 80% of the LEP’s activities but was clear that issues like World Heritage Status were matters for the city alone.

The LEP has to recognise that the name Liverpool is the attack brand on a global basis. The city has to realise that many of the economic engines of the sub region lie outside the city’s boundaries. Unilever and Cammell Laird are on the Wirral; Pilkington’s is in St Helens.

As we say so often politicians and business leaders need to work together across the city region to realise its full potential.

HANSON FOR MERSEYTRAVEL?

 

HANSON FOR MERSEYTRAVEL?

As forecast here last week, pressure is mounting on Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd to go. His vigorous response to accusations of broken contract rule has merely galvanised opposition to him within his own Labour Party ranks.

Leading the way has been Liverpool Cabinet member Joe Hanson who it is now clear is the person behind a critical report on Cllr Dowd’s record. Hanson may be the man to challenge Cllr Dowd when the authority holds its annual general meeting later this month.

The fact that he is a Liverpool councillor, and traditionally such posts are held by politicians from councils in the rest of Merseyside, may now be less of a problem. Reports suggest that St Helens councillors on the transport authority have joined the call for Cllr Dowd to go. St Helens is traditionally the council most sensitive to Liverpool dominating the city region.

WARRINGTON NEW LEADERSHIP

Who is going to fill the gap left by the departure of Chief Executive Diana Terris? Sources suggest she found it difficult to work with the Labour administration which came into office last year. My information is that the authority will take its time to make a permanent appointment. In the meantime we can expect an announcement shortly of an experienced pair of hands to guide the authority through the transition.

CONSULTATION OR CHAOS?

Labour does want its pasty and eat it.
I mean the government changes its mind about the tax on this product and an MP called Chris Leslie is all over our screens saying the whole budget is in chaos.

He’s miffed because he won’t be able to beat the Chancellor over the head about the issue again or the tax on static caravans. The tax on church conversions is rumoured to be next.

Of course George Osborne made a mess of his budget, allowing everyone to focus on these irritating issues which are small in the great scheme of things. This has obscured his determination to keep getting the deficit down and the fact that millions of poorer people have been taken out of tax. The latter largely because of Lib Dem pressure.

So the government has changed its mind. All credit to them I say for listening. That’s what democracy is all about.

NICK ROBINSON AND BRIAN REDHEAD.

Spin, sleaze and splits. That’s the staple diet of political journalism. But should we replace some of that with substance?

That was the question that the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson posed at a memorial lecture this week in honour of that great North West journalist Brian Redhead.

Partly driven by the demands of editors and also by the incessant demands of 24 hour news, political coverage does tend to concentrate on those three s-words. But Nick was asking how far this has contributed to the yawning chasm that has opened up between politicians and the people.

If the public is constantly told their politicians are on the make, if they think the reporter is being manipulated by spin doctors or is telling them about internal party squabbles that they don’t care about, then probably journalism has some responsibility for low turnout.

So Nick suggested we need to do something about the fourth s-word, substance. Perhaps we should have more coverage of how policy is made, why it is so difficult, what factors are taken into account.

The problem is who would watch it or read it? Nick feared it might be regarded as “eating your greens television.” In other words good for you but not necessarily very enjoyable after a hard day’s work.

I was privileged to host a question and answer session after Nick had spoken at the lecture in Salford Quays. Nick had first worked for me at Piccadilly Radio (now Key 103) in January 1983. He had a year to fill because he could not go to university following a terrible car crash which saw his great friend Will Redhead killed.

Nick paid tribute to Brian, who included presenting the Today programme and editing the Manchester Evening News, amongst his achievements and said he had inspired him to take up journalism.

Brian encouraged all young journalists. In the early eighties I always hoped he’d be on the mid morning train to Macclesfield after we had both finished working in London. If he was you’d be guaranteed a couple of hours of inspiring chat which was substantial but included a bit about spin, sleaze and splits too.