IVAN LEWIS SHOWS WINNING MENTALITY.
The bust up within the Greater Manchester Labour Party over who should be their candidate for elected mayor shows no sign of abating.
Last week Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese opined that Bury South MP Ivan Lewis’ twenty years in parliament didn’t qualify him for a job requiring experience of local government. A clearly offended Ivan is now pointing out that he was a councillor in Bury and chair of the Social Services Committee.
Observers remain surprised that Sir Richard Leese chose the occasion of his decision not to stand for the post to indulge in this red on red attack. There are now suggestions that despite his obvious qualification for the Labour nomination, he would not have beaten the current interim mayor Tony Lloyd(former Stretford MP) or Ivan The Terrible (Bury South MP) in the vote. There is apparently a strong desire amongst Labour chiefs in the nine other councils not to let Manchester boss the show.
So has the Northern Powerhouse (NP) got momentum after all? I wrote critically about the project a couple of weeks ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to go along to a big conference on the subject in Manchester. It was aimed at the business community who need to be convinced that NP is going to mean opportunities for new contracts and growth.
The conference didn’t get off to a great start. The Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill had issued a prepared speech to the press but treated the audience to a defensive ramble about the government’s continued commitment to the NP. He attacked critics who said the North South divide was still widening by stressing it was a long term project. However he did acknowledge a lack of joined up thinking in government evidenced by the “pause” in the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line. The project is now back on track.
The government seem to have taken on board criticism that NP is too focused on infrastructure. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools recently warned that NP could be undermined because of poor secondary education in northern schools. Lord O’Neill said this, and the related issue of poor skills, would be addressed in phase two of NP.
John Prescott is a regular at these conferences and never fails to challenge the new orthodoxy that cities alone hold the key to northern regeneration. There he was waving a fading copy of his Northern Way document which, ten years ago, mapped out a vision for strategic thinking across the North. It was scrapped by the Coalition government in 2010 but Prescott pointed out that the recent appointment of ex CBI boss John Cridland as chair of Transport for the North showed the continuing need for strategic thinking beyond the boundaries of smaller Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils.
Prescott retains the belief that local councils will always compete with each other in their own narrow interest. Chief Executives from Leeds Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester came together for a conference session where they insisted that they were going to set aside parochialism in the interests on NP. We’ll see if that works when a global company is weighing up the merits of locating in rival northern cities in the future.
There were good conference sessions on issues like transport and finance and the large attendance showed that business is taking NP seriously. It is, for sure, the only game in town if we are to get the North competitive with London. Let us hope the government stay focused when all the headlines are about our very future in Europe.