Hancock’s Half Page




This is what it has come down to. The possibility of Europe living together in a family of closely linked nations, shattered with intolerance and selfishness on the rise.

The asinine comment I quote above came from Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne. He was frustrated that we are likely to be excluded from the Gallileo satellite navigation system once we leave the European Union. I think the issue can possibly be resolved in the negotiations, but Swayne is representative of the “cake” tendency within the Brexiteer movement.

The attitude goes something like this. We are leaving the EU with a few rude parting shots about the institution. We want the freedom to get a competitive advantage over you in world trade. Oh! but by the way, we want to continue to be part of the bits of the EU that suit us like the European Arrest Warrant, Galileo, and the education programme Erasmus.

The Commons this week gave the Prime Minister the freedom to conduct the Brexit negotiations as she wishes. Let’s hope she shows more finesse than Sir Desmond Swayne.


Except for the excellent Ken Clarke and the more erratic Anna Soubry, what a bunch of dupes those Tory Remainer MPs were. The media built them up as the members who would bring some sanity to the Brexit process only for them to fall for the oldest trick in the Whips’ office book. Last week ambiguous promises, threats, and appeals to party loyalty got the government off the hook when it was most vulnerable to a move to give back control to the Commons. (I thought that was the purpose of Brexit, but in fact it means giving control to Ministers).

Within 24 hours the rebels saw how the government had outmanoeuvred them. The Lords stood by their position but when the amendment returned to the Commons most of the Tory rebels flaked away from another threatened revolt on the promise that the Speaker would decide on a “meaningful vote” if a “No Deal” crisis looms.


Mrs May is able to continue steering Brexit through the reefs and shoals because she is fortunate to have an opposition rendered ineffective by a misplaced respect for the narrow Referendum result and the indifference or hostility to Europe displayed by the leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Their decision not to support our membership of the European Economic Area split the party and let the government off the hook. This was a deliberate move. Be in no doubt the Labour leadership want to facilitate our leaving the EU. They will eventually stand in the dock of history when the true consequences of our withdrawal are revealed.


Brexiteers have been rightly taunted over their ridiculous bus poster claim that the NHS would benefit by £350 million a week from payments we would no longer be making to Brussels. Mrs May revived the fantasy this week in launching her funding plan for the NHS.

Let’s be clear the NHS, all other public services and business will be damaged because Brexit has had the following consequences: a £39bn divorce bill, a weakened pound, a growth rate that has tanked and the need for us to fund 40 agencies currently supported by the EU.

Oh! and we may have to spend billions on our own Galileo security system. Never mind getting even Sir Desmond, we are too busy shooting ourselves in the foot.

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The government’s commitment to devolving power to the North was the subject of sharp disagreement amongst top speakers during the first week of the International Festival of Business in Liverpool.

Lord Heseltine said it was a casualty of Brexit and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he felt the government was putting him “back in the box”. However, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands begged to differ. Andy Street told the audience of business people, he didn’t feel that he is being put back in any sort of box and, with the help of the private sector, the Midlands Engine was roaring with 12,000 housing starts and half a billion from the government to clear brownfield sites.

These exchanges came on a day when the Festival had lined up an impressive range of guests to discuss urban policy. Five English mayors joined forces to renew their call to demand greater devolution of powers particularly concerning apprenticeship funds.

The government’s Apprenticeship Levy Scheme is intended to fund new apprenticeships through a levy of 0.5% on the wage bill of large employers. It raises £3bn a year and is meant to pay for apprenticeships. However, over a billion is languishing in Treasury coffers according to Andy Burnham and the most recent figures show apprenticeships dropping!

The main challenge for these mayors is economic improvement, so what have they achieved in their first year. They are often dealing with strategic issues that don’t yield instant results. For instance, Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region) said his priorities were ultrafast broadband and the green energy coast around Liverpool Bay. Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) saw the need for quick “retail” wins like a free bus pass for 16-18-year olds.

There are to be new regional industrial strategies for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, but not elsewhere apparently. This is evidence of the piecemeal approach being adopted by the government and whilst Sir Howard Bernstein continued to criticise the Regional Development Agency structure at the Downtown Festival conference, the fact remains that it had the advantage of being coherent across the country.


All English city region mayors are male, and, except for London’s Sadiq Khan who attended the Festival this week, they are all white. So, theatre director Jude Kelly returned to the city of her birth to decry this state of affairs. She uttered a profound truth about the regeneration and devolution debate, that it seems to almost exclusively interest blokes. That is so correct. I attend far more conferences on this subject than is good for me and the absence of woman, and even more, the ethnic communities is so striking.

Kelly said this would only change through education and the use of female role models to inspire young women to take an interest in engineering, regeneration and devolution.

Andy Burnham opined that at least the mayoral model was rid of the petty point scoring of Westminster which he was happy to leave behind.

No time was given by the moderator for the audience to ask any questions, which was unfortunate. I would have asked if the Labour or Conservative Party would consider all women shortlists for the next round of contests in 2020.

There was evidence of international interest in the Festival, particularly from China. It has two more weeks to run which is shorter than previous Festivals, but I picked up a feeling that the next one could be consolidated into one intensive week of high quality events. That said, congratulations are due to Max Steinberg and his team for bringing the world of business to Liverpool.






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.

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After my last two blogs on the Greater Manchester economy which took a bullish view of the conurbation’s growth; it is time to look at the surprising claim that Merseyside is outpacing its neighbour.

In the run up to the International Festival of Business, I am looking at the economic prospects of our three city areas, including Preston which I will review next week.

City Metric, a New Statesman magazine urban website, claims that over the last twenty years Liverpool has grown faster than any other city apart from London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The reasons for this range from the fact that it started from a low base, benefitted from the legacy of Capital of Culture 2008, built the Echo Arena and opened the 42 acres of Liverpool One shopping. In addition, the sub region has seen an influx of students, land is affordable, and it has received  over £2bn in European aid. Whether Whitehall will be as generous in the post Brexit era is a question for another day.

Responsibility for strategic economic growth in the Liverpool City Region rests on the shoulders of Mayor Steve Rotheram. A former bricklayer he helped Joe Anderson win the city for Labour in 2010 before reluctantly becoming an MP. He told a recent Downtown event that he thought the parliamentary procedure book called Erskine May, was a girl! Despite having little enthusiasm for the old-fashioned procedures of parliament he did remarkable work on the Hillsborough justice campaign and became parliamentary aide to Jeremy Corbyn despite voting for Andy Burnham for leader.

Both he and Andy Burnham quit Westminster to take up the mayoral conurbation jobs and work closely together. They are both demanding more power to make their economies work. They are particularly frustrated that they have no direct power over organisations like Network Rail or the Highways Agency(HA).

It seems the HA is aware of the growing complaints of the mayors. Tim Gamon, Regional Delivery Director for Highways England, recently claimed his organisation was conducting more consultation than ever before on eight major road improvement schemes across the North West. These include finishing the M60 smart motorway project, improving connections between the M67 at Hyde and the MI at Sheffield, to better links to Fleetwood and the Rimrose Valley project to upgrade links between the Port of Liverpool and the motorway network.

The mayors probably back these schemes but have little power over what they see as unaccountable national agencies. The mayors claim the North will always suffer from the Treasury’s Benefit Cost Ratio formula which favours the South East because of its huge commuter population and high land values.

Even with the good news on growth, the Liverpool City Region suffers from low skills. Rotheram says he’d like to get his hands on £1.28bn that lies unspent in the apprenticeship levy pot.

Future economic targets for the Mayor include bringing the Spanish train builder Talgo to St Helens, and progress on the Mersey Barrage.

Rotheram has less power than Andy Burnham who includes NHS spending in his portfolio as well as police and fire. The complication for Rotheram is that his region includes Halton which is under Cheshire for police and fire. Consequently, when Jane Kennedy stands down as Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) for the Liverpool City Region, she will have to be replaced as Halton has a different PCC.

Tensions between Joe Anderson, the city mayor, and Rotheram at the region, seem to be easing, allowing the hope that both Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region can prosper. But what about Preston?

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