Hancock’s Half Page

“A CLUB WILL GO BUST”

 

“A CLUB WILL GO BUST”

How many times have you heard that forecast as the football season gets underway? We all know that the financing of football is crazy. We all know that the forthcoming season will produce stories of clubs tottering on the brink of oblivion. But it never happens does it?

I say never. Maidstone United seems to be dead and buried but Accrington Stanley and Aldershot have risen from the grave and Portsmouth stagger on. Fan loyalty comes to the rescue when all the red financial lights are on.

But could Portsmouth or even Blackburn Rovers go out of business for ever? A recent Downtown seminar on football heard the forecast repeated that this season one or more of our clubs will bite the dust.

That wasn’t the only startling forecast by Alan Switzer; Director in Deloitte’s Manchester based Sports Business Group as he presented the company’s annual review of football finances.

He also believes UEFA are serious about enforcing their financial fair play rules. The burning question here is would UEFA devalue the Champions League by telling Manchester City, for instance, that they can’t play in the 2014/15 competition if they are not breaking even?

Alan believes there might be some leniency if the direction of travel is right and developments around youth academies will be exempt. However he is in no doubt that UEFA are determined to bring an end to the precarious arms race that is afflicting so many clubs.

Deloitte’s figures are staggering. Premier League average salaries are over a million a year whilst in Division Two it is£47,000. Soon the Championship play off match will be for £150m; even Sky won’t need to hype that! The Premier League wages to turnover ratio is 70%. Most significantly profit levels are flat.

Why the alarm with the new Sky/BT deal coming along worth £3 billion? It may be an opportunity for clubs to put their finances in order, but that would be a triumph of hope over experience. It seems more likely that the poor old fans will see their viewing subscriptions soar up in order to put even more money in players’ wallets.

Alan Switzer produced a graph showing that success was linked to the money clubs spent. There are exceptions like Blackpool’s glorious adventure but generally you get what you pay for.

Is there a tipping point where Sky won’t be able to milk the fans anymore? The seminar heard that increasingly pubs are struggling to pay to show the matches.

The big kick off will soon be with us, but first it’s wall to wall Olympic Games.
North West companies have benefited from Olympic orders. Watson Steel of Bolton, Ainscough cranes from Wigan and Glasdon recycling based in Blackpool being among them. But let’s not kid ourselves it’s London and the South East, the region that least needs it that is benefiting most.

However let’s hope it all goes well and reflect on the fact that without the success of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester ten years ago, none of this would be happening.

WIND IN ED’S SAILS?

WIND IN ED’S SAILS?

The image of the private sector has taken a mighty knock. Whether it’s the sight of police and troops rescuing Olympic security from G4S or the tattered reputation of our banks.

Will this have a lasting effect on our politics with Ed Miliband catching the wind of public opinion if it moves to the left?

Public sector bad, private sector good, has always been a simplistic mantra but recent events could mean a more sympathetic hearing for the role of the state. Ed is sending out subtle signals. He was the first Labour leader to speak at the Durham Miners Gala in 23 years.

It’s a good time to take the political temperature as parliament goes on holiday yet again.

I know the government has run out of things to do except reform the Lords (or not as the case may be) but MPs seem to be doing very little legislating at the moment.

Off in mid February, off at Easter, two weeks for the Jubilee and now barely a month later, they are off again. When a political commentator claimed the other day that these were dog days at Westminster with MPs yearning to get away on their holidays, I nearly drove off the road.

July used to be the month of soaring tempers and temperatures as the government sought to get bills on the statute book before a long break leading up to a short wash up session before the Queen’s Speech in November. MPs were often involved in all night sittings and were genuinely exhausted.

We can forget the soaring temperatures, but the rhythm of the parliamentary year has changed too. With the Queen’s Speech now in May, the pressure point for legislation is Easter.

It is true that a September session has been introduced because of public outrage at the July to October break. I also agree that MPs work hard in their constituencies, need to be off when their kids are on holiday and that there is little point in debating bills in the early hours of the morning.

However I think things have swung too far the other way making claims that there isn’t parliamentary time for this and that, risible.

On the subject of parliamentary time, how long does the Labour Party want to debate the Lords’ Bill in the House of Commons? The party’s brazen political manoeuvring reached new heights this week as the Opposition was asked how many extra days it wanted to discuss the measure. Luciana Berger, the normally eloquent Liverpool Wavertree MP, was reduced to mumbling about it being a matter for discussion behind the Speaker’s Chair.

Helped by Tory rebels, it is Labour quibbling over the number of days needed for debate that is likely to scupper a reform that the party has been committed to for a long time.

The row over the Lords forced another photo opportunity out of the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg designed to reassure the markets that Britain has a stable government. I’m sure that’s true. Indeed what struck me is that Cameron and Clegg are getting closer and closer.

While they are huddling together in the economic storm, they are in danger of becoming isolated from their grassroots. This is particularly the case with Cameron. He must be worried that the ranks of the Tory rebels on the Lords’ bill were swollen by large numbers of Conservatives who only entered parliament in 2010.

They were prepared to risk future promotion and incur Flashman’s temper because many of them have fallen out of love with Cameron. They blame him for not winning the election outright and even doubt if he is a real Tory.

As far as Nick Clegg is concerned, he is testing the patience of his dwindling army of grassroots activists. They fear calamity at the next election with the Lib Dems blamed for tuition fees and with no voting or Lords’ reform achieved.

It will be an interesting party conference seasons but first the Olympics. I’m looking forward to seeing all those soldiers….and the athletes.

MAYOR JOE’s TEAM

Mayor Joe addressed Liverpool councillors for nearly an hour on Wednesday night. It was the first opportunity to see how the elected mayor would interact with the 90 councillors whose power has been much reduced.

Influence is shifting to bodies like the Mayor of Liverpool’s Development Corporation. I can report that the following will be providing “strategic direction for the city’s economy.” Sir Michael Bibby, Bibby Line; Claire Dove Blackburne House; Liv Garfield Openreach; Robert Hough Local Enterprise Partnership; Sir Howard Newby Liverpool University; Julia Unwin, Rowntree Foundation; and entrepreneur David Wade Smith. Pat Richie (CEO of the Homes and Community Agency) will also be joining subject to confirmation by his board.

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.

LORDS OF THE NORTH

I’m not as bothered that the ancestors of some current peers are bastard sons of Charles the Second than that so many of them come from the South East of England.

It’s a fact that the vast majority of the 826 members of the House of Lords are either from that corner of the country or live there now.

This means that most members of the upper chamber who play a crucial role in our law making know little or nothing about our neck of the woods, so roll on regional peers.

The way in which a reshaped House of Lords will be elected has received little attention from the Westminster Village journalists. That’s not surprising as most of them are from the London area.

However the bill to be debated on Monday contains plans that could give a real voice to the North. 80% of the new house will be elected by proportional representation. These new democratic Lords will sit for one 15 year term and they will be elected from the regions of England. So the North West, North East and Yorkshire will be able to elect representatives who know about our patch and its people.

This proposal will also have the advantage of reasserting the concept of the North West of England. The Coalition has spent two years comprehensively wiping regions off the map. Now they are beginning to realise the usefulness of uniting Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire and the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Better together indeed.

When the time comes we will need to make sure that independent people have a real shot at getting elected. The main political parties will choose their candidates on a list and depending on the votes they get, their peers will be elected in the same way as we choose our members of the European Parliament.

It is a system that locks out the public in favour of party cabals so we will have our work cut out to get independent voices to beat them, but that’s not for now.

What is immediately required is support for the government in getting the Lords reformed. It currently looks as if the Coalition Government is faced with a Coalition of political opportunists and peers with self interested reasons for seeing no reform at all.

All parties are split. The Lib Dems are most in favour but watch some of their representatives in the Lords who may not be too keen to lose their seats. A large number of Tory backbenchers are against for various reasons. There is a group following in the tradition of their predecessors 100 years ago who were prepared to draw the monarchy into politics as they fought against Lords reform. Others are spoiling for a fight with the Lib Dems who are most committed to the measure.

Then there is Labour who are in a mood of dangerous opportunism. They have been in favour of full Lords reform since Kier Hardy (their founder) was a lad. However they can’t resist embarrassing the government by calling for endless debating time on the bill. If they vote with rebel Tories on the motion which decides how long Lords Reform is going to be debated, it could effectively kill the measure.

If that happened the North West would be denied a real chance for a voice in this country’s second chamber.