Having swept away all the organisations that were helping the Northern economy, the Coalition government has spent the last few years building them up again.
Although the patchwork of Local Enterprise Partnerships(LEPs), Mayoral Zones and Regional Growth Funds will never make up for the lost coherence of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in the North West and Yorkshire, there are signs that some LEPs are getting to grips with their task.
This is important as the Chancellor has signified this week that he may be getting serious about doing something to empower the North, sandwiched as it is between Scotland and London which both want for nothing in terms of government spending.
The Northern Way, which was the umbrella organisation for the northern RDAs, would have been the perfect organisation to deliver the trans Pennine HS3 rail link that George Osborne envisages. We will have to wait and see how the project is to be managed if this announcement is anything other than a smokescreen for the complete lack of a coherent policy for the North.
Another example of the government’s incoherence has been with elected mayors. First they wanted them just for cities and with no extra power. Now they want them for city regions with some real power and money.
Liverpool in particular could do with a city region mayor to bring democratic accountability to the LEP which has substantial achievements under its belt. A mayor who covered the whole sub region from Wirral to St Helens would also help solve the current impasse with the Liverpool Combined Authority (CA) of councils. This is caused by the fact that Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral, heads the organisation rather than the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson.
The government will have a tough job selling the concept of an elected mayor for the whole of Greater Manchester for a number of reasons. Manchester residents rejected the concept for their city, and there is already an elected mayor in Salford. Furthermore the LEP under chair Mike Blackburn, the Combined Authority under Lord Smith of Wigan and Manchester City Council led by Sir Richard Leese are already driving economic regeneration effectively.
The Liverpool LEP has an impressive record too, partly helped because it inherited the Mersey Partnership. It has 450 subscribing private sector members. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics concerning growth rates shows Liverpool as ninth out of 39 LEPs in the UK.
Liverpool LEP is hoping to be allocated a good chunk of the £2bn Local Growth Fund to be announced soon and is coordinating the spending of 221 million Euros it has been allocated from European coffers.
Specific achievements include helping fibre optic company Tratos expand in Knowsley with the creation of 100 jobs. The LEPs Business Growth Grant will help create 2000 new jobs and the New Markets Programme, developed by the LEP is helping small businesses get a 35% subsidy for their growth plans. Meanwhile the Skills for Growth Bank, backed by the LEP has approved £2.5m for business growth.
The Liverpool LEP is headed up by Robert Hough who has patiently rebuilt an organisation to support business after being chairman of the North West Development Agency when it was swept away. A quietly efficient man who does not seek the headlines, his organisation’s profile might be improved if its boundaries were shared with an elected mayor for the same area.
Politicians bring campaigns and the media spotlight would then perhaps be turned on to the somewhat dry world of economic regeneration.
Personally I believe if the government wants city region mayors, they should legislate for them. There are enough referenda in the air at the moment.
In the meantime the Liverpool LEP will get on with the job of bringing employment to the City Region.