Hancock’s Half Page

DOWD UNDER PRESSURE

DOWD UNDER PRESSURE

Mark Dowd, the man who makes the trains run on time across Merseyside, could be facing the end of his long stint as Chair of Merseytravel.

Transport sources suggest that the challenge may come from within Cllr Dowd’s own Labour party and even more controversially may come from the Liverpool Labour Group.

Any move by the city to take over the chair is likely to be viewed warily by outer boroughs that have jealously guarded key posts on the city region wide bodies that control waste, fire, police and travel.

Apart from Cllr Dowd (Sefton), the chair of the Police Authority Bill Weightman comes from Knowsley as does Cllr Tony Newman who chairs the Fire Authority. Meanwhile the Recycling and Waste Authority is headed up by the appropriately named Cllr Joe De Asha from St Helens. I hear Liverpool could be targeting his post as well. That won’t go down well with the St Helens Council leader Marie Rimmer whose relations with Mayor Joe are said to be poor.

Fears of these attempted Liverpool takeovers have been heightened by the election of Joe Anderson as mayor. He believes the post should cover the city region and may get government backing as he slowly tries to widen his influence.

Cllr Dowd may be vulnerable because a local newspaper has given extensive coverage to a report by the District Auditor questioning how millions of pounds had been spent by Merseytravel on consultants without the contracts being put out to tender.

Tory Wirral MP Esther McVey and Lib Dem peer Lord Mike Storey have now called for an investigation.

Mark Dowd, a man well used to the rough and tumble of Merseyside politics has hit back saying the District Auditor had found no substance in most of the claims and where there needed to be improvement, this was being done.

The problem for Cllr Dowd is that the District Auditor’s findings follow a highly critical report on the governance of Merseytravel under Mark Dowd by fellow Labour councillors. Perhaps this paves the way for a takeover bid at the annual meeting next month.

CHESHIRE ON THE MARCH

Manchester and Liverpool better watch out. Cheshire is tired of being depicted as the home of footballers wives and the famous cheese.

With poverty still a major problem in our big cities, it is often tempting to look at the lush acres to the south and think the county hasn’t any problems.

Liverpool, Manchester and to some extent Lancashire have been successful in drawing attention to their problems and getting investment.

Cheshire missed out on an enterprise zone although the ones in Liverpool, Daresbury and Manchester Airport are right on its borders.

Now the drive is on to get the whole of Cheshire as well as Warrington working together. At an impressive Westminster Day in the House of Commons a positive message was sent out drawing attention to the economic advantages of business locating in the county.

The Chancellor and Tatton MP George Osborne came along on his birthday. Pete Waterman (a member of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership) gave a rousing speech in support of HS2 and a room near Westminster Hall was set aside for admiring parliamentarians to sample Cheshire fare.

THE QUEEN DROPPED IN

It’s not often that the Queen drops in on a business conference in Burnley. But a visit from the Windsors was what delegates to the Small Firms’ Summit experienced this week.

Debate on the burdens of red tape and lack of skilled workers was temporarily suspended as the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh met selected guests.

The visit may have contributed to the upbeat mood of small firm managers as they met at Burnley College on the impressive University of Central Lancashire site in the town.

Also helping put a smile on delegates’ faces was the opening speech by Stephen Falder, a Cheshire businessman who invented the highly effective anti microbial product Byotrol which he exports around the world.

Stephen is an avid Manchester City fan and his voice was still a bit croaky as he enthused about the advantages that small and family run businesses can have over the big boys.

“You need passion and fun” Stephen declared and told us how he’d named a product for keeping barnacles off the keels of boats “Slippery Bottom.” It rushed off the shelves.

He set off a lively debate by saying claims that regulation was strangling small businesses were overdone. He’d been to Europe and said regulators in Brussels and elsewhere were prepared to listen if you didn’t rant and explained the problem convincingly.

Byotrol had been through the hard times in 2008. Everyone-managers and workforce-had gone on to a four day week and were in a good position to spring back.

The conference then debated a number of issues affecting small firms including the quality of young people emerging from schools and higher education.

There seemed to be agreement that some youngsters were under the impression that a degree would guarantee them a place half way up the management tree when in fact they needed to be prepared to start at the bottom.

There was a call for teachers and university lecturers to get business experience on the shop floor and for youngsters to be given every encouragement to start enterprises when they were in their late teens.

Firms were encouraged to make work experience meaningful and the conference ended with calls to the government to take action on business rates and the growing number of extra charges firms were being asked to pay for a range of services.

CALL TO WORK TOGETHER….AGAIN!

Meanwhile over at the Liverpool Economic Forum calls were once again heard for all agencies in the City Region to work together.

The new mayor Joe Anderson was billed to be there but was already strutting the world stage at an event in Paris. This was one of the ideas around the creation of the post that seems to have got off to a quick start.

If Joe had swapped Old Hall Street for the Champs Elysees he would have heard an old cry for agencies supporting business in the Liverpool City Region to work together.

The panel including Wayne Locke (Space Northwest), Neil Murray (Redx Pharma) and John Schorah (Weightmans) clearly had concerns about whether the new Local Enterprise Partnership, Liverpool Vision and the councils on Merseyside were all pulling in the same direction.
This may be a task that Joe Anderson can undertake, but he is only mayor of Liverpool, an early sign of the folly of not making this a city region post.

LANCS LABOUR TARGET AND JOE’S CHANCE TO UPSTAGE MANCHESTER

The restless world of politics moves on. With the elections and Queen’s Speech out of the way, it is time to look to the political future of the North West after a busy week.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user johnnyenglish
Photo courtesy of Flickr user johnnyenglish

Two issues stand out. Following Labour’s good night in the district elections in Lancashire, the battle is already underway for the biggest prize of all, control of Lancashire County Council. Next year, it will be the only show in town in our patch, but expect the colourful leader of Lancashire, Geoff Driver, to put up a tough fight.

In the cities Joe Anderson is the unlikely pin up boy of the Tories having delivered an elected mayor whereas Manchester has not played ball. Already Cities Minister Greg Clarke is talking about giving the elected mayor transport powers although it would have to be with the agreement of the other councils on Merseyside. Good luck with that Joe.

With most cities joining Manchester in a no vote, it must have been a distinct possibility that Liverpool would have given a thumbs down too. So Joe Anderson’s move to get the council to bypass the referendum retains the whiff of a coup.

What will matter in the long term is if the handful of elected mayoral cities like Middlesborough, Bristol and Liverpool really do benefit from their Downing Street meetings with David Cameron or if they come to look like odd experiments in Town Hall governance that have done no better than the refusniks like Manchester and Birmingham.

There is speculation that the government is still toying with the idea of city region mayors if people want it. They should have legislated for that in the first place giving the conurbations real power. Instead they were vague on the powers of mayors and resorted to referendums which are not an effective way to make constitutional change. People don’t care enough about such issues and just use them to give the government a kicking.

Before we finish with mayors it will be worth keeping an eye on Salford where Ian Stewart was elected. He’ll be joining Joe Anderson on trips to Downing Street but he’s going to have to work hard to win the confidence of officers of the council. There’s also the question of his relations with John Merry, the former council leader who Stewart beat for the post.

Now let’s look at the council results in more detail.

 

LANCASHIRE ELECTIONS

A good night for Labour particularly in Blackburn with Darwen where they now hold nearly three quarters of the seats. A few years ago they lost power to a mixture of Tories, Lib Dems and For Darwen independents. The latter have disappeared completely, perhaps Darwen feels more comfortable about its relationship with Blackburn these days.

Labour returned to power in Burnley after a decade when first the British National Party and then the Lib Dems challenged its supremacy. The fascists are now off the council completely. The result must be worrying for the town’s Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwhistle.

Labour also held Hyndburn and gained Rossendale and Chorley where six years ago David Cameron arrived by helicopter to celebrate the Tory triumph.

The Conservatives held off the Labour challenge in West Lancashire but only have a two seat majority over the Labour Party led by the experienced John Fillis.

The only joy for the Liberal Democrats in Lancashire is that they hold the balance of power in Pendle.

 

GREATER MANCHESTER ELECTIONS

It really was a bad night for the Lib Dems here. Another wipe out in Manchester means they have lost 24 councillors in two years and put a huge question mark under the future of John Leech as MP for Withington.

In Rochdale, once the home of Liberal success under Cyril Smith, internal divisions and the national tide has reduced the party to just 5 councillors on the authority.

The Lib Dems lost their leader in Stockport but remain the largest party largely because of the continuing poor performance of the Conservatives in the leafy suburbs that should be Tory territory. For the party not to be able to take advantage of the Lib Dems at this time should be a cause for a party inquiry.

 

MERSEYSIDE ELECTIONS

The whole of Merseyside is now in full Labour control for the first time. The party has all the seats on Knowsley,in St Helens the frustrated Lib Dem leader Brian Spencer was led from the counting hall by the police and in Liverpool the party lost a further 9 seats including group leader Paula Keaveney.

But the most spectacular result was in Sefton where never before have Labour had full control. Their victory in genteel Blundellsands summed up a night of triumph.

Political stability has come to Wirral with a Labour majority of eight. With no elections in 2013 the new Labour leader, Phil Davies, has two years to sort out the running of the troubled authority.

So the Coalition has hit the mid term blues. As ever the economy will dictate whether Cameron and Clegg can recover by 2015. Developments in France, Greece and Spain suggest that is far from certain.

IT’S JOE AND NO

While Joe Anderson was sweeping all before him to become Liverpool’s first directly elected mayor, the people of Manchester narrowly voted no.

53% voted no and 47% yes but only a quarter of Mancunians voted following a low key campaign. The government had wanted “a Boris in every Town Hall” but it will be business as usual in this well run city.

The truth is that the post has not attracted the colourful outsiders or dynamic business candidate that might have caught the voter’s imagination. Combined with that was uncertainty about what difference it would have made.

The government might have wanted a Boris in Manchester Town Hall but they weren’t prepared to give the post the powers in advance.

However Manchester’s rival city just down the M62 does now have the opportunity to exploit any advantage there may be to be gained by having an elected mayor.

Joe Anderson, the city’s council leader won easily on the first ballot. The former BBC producer Liam Fogarty came second and immediately accepted an unpaid post as Anderson wasted no time in signalling that the partisan rhetoric was being put away.

That’s just as well because the campaign has been characterised by disruptive behaviour by the fruitcakes and fascists representing the British National Party, National Front and English Democrats.

Their interventions in radio debates and at the count were crude examples of boneheaded racism. When they got beyond immigration, their other policies for the city were implausible or downright ridiculous. The people of Liverpool pronounced their verdict by putting the bunch of them at the bottom of the list.

In third place was Liberal Democrat Richard Kemp. With his long experience on the council and national positions with the Local Government Association, he could have plausibly run the city.

Fourth place wasn’t bad for the Greens’ John Coyle with the veteran Socialist Coalition candidate Tony Mulhearn in fifth.

Steve Radford of the Liberals was virtually tied with Tory Tony Caldeira in sixth and seventh place. Caldeira campaigned well, attracting top ministers in to support him like Cities Minister Greg Clarke. Caldeira has laid the foundations for a bid for parliament.

Manchester will now watch the elected mayors of Liverpool and Salford bed in but most cities across the country holding referendums have said no to the project.

There’s already a feeling on Merseyside that Joe Anderson will seek to extend his influence beyond the city’s boundaries. Transport is an area where his writ does not run beyond the city boundary. As the ballot boxes were stacked away he told me he would be asking questions about the deal the city gets from Merseyside Transport Authority.

The saga of the lost tram scheme for the city still wrankles with the old bruiser. Anderson told me he intends to open discussion with the government about more powers for the office he now holds.

Although Sefton, Wirral and St Helens are either opposed to or equivocal about a sub regional mayor, they are now all under full Labour control for the first time. This may or may not assist in bringing Merseyside together.