Why is so much freight imported through Felixstowe and Southampton and then trundled up North?


It is a very pertinent question with fuel prices rising so fast.


Across the North we need to accelerate a concept that has been around for a few years now, the Atlantic Gateway. It is a concept based on the widening of the Panama Canal and the building of a new deep water terminal in Liverpool (work begins on that very soon). The idea then is that freight from the Americas and Ireland can use the land bridge across the North of England to Hull to access North West Europe.


Along the land bridge jobs will be created using the fantastic assets that are there. They range from Stobart’s Multi Modal Depot at Widnes, the soon to be built Mersey Gateway bridge between Runcorn and Widnes, the Manchester Ship Canal with new port depots along its length, Manchester Airport City and the Northern Hub which will benefit rail transport across the Pennines where the M62 heads for the rapidly developing city of Leeds and on to Hull, the gateway to the Baltic.


Although this is a grand design and big firms will play a major part, there is a crucial role for SMEs. This was highlighted at a recent conference that focused on the often dry subject of logistics. This is because the purpose of the Atlantic Gateway project is to get products to distributors and manufacturers as soon as possible.


Organised by the Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership and supported by Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood and Unipart the conference looked at the current state of the economy as this huge project is embarked upon.


Kieran Ring, Chief Executive of the Global Institute of Logistics said that the widened Panama Canal would dramatically affect global trade. The price of oil is really impacting the cost of inland distribution and short sea crossings would grow. Liverpool was in the right place to benefit.


Closer to home,Stephen Carr, Head of Business Development for Peel Ports said the Mersey/Atlantic Gateway concept was already being practised by companies like Heinz in Wigan, Typhoo tea and Kellogg’s in Trafford Park. He wryly observed that there actually was nothing new in the Gateway concept producing an 1894 map showing the rail connections around the new Manchester Ship Canal.


Scott Hardy, Freight Strategy Manager at Jaguar Land Rover was in buoyant mood. JLR had there best ever month in March with great sales figures for the new Range Rover, the Freelander and Evoque. He illustrated the formidable logistics exercise that JLR had to undertake between their factories at Halewood, Castle Bromwich and Solihull in the UK and their Chinese operation. It all depended on being highly competitive with stock levels. There was a big opportunity to increase imports from America through Liverpool.


Liverpool MP Louise Ellman is also chair of the Transport Select Committee. She announced an inquiry into Britain’s ports She attacked the lopsided investment in transport infrastructure spend between the North and the South. She said this was because decisions on spend were based on congestion (always a problem in the South) not the economic impact investment would have in the North.


Its important we get on with the Atlantic Gateway project across the North so that we are ready for the pick up in the economy when it eventually comes.



“Northern prosperity is national prosperity”, that’s the title of an excellent document published by the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR North) ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement. If the Chancellor implements its recommendations, the North can play its rightful part in pulling the country out of the slump.


Addressing the gross imbalance in the UK economy between the North and the South East, the report claims halving that output gap would increase national income by £41bn.


The economic proposals include a British Investment Bank with £40bn capitalisation, but with regional allocations, a plan for a new body to take over the Northern Rail Franchise and devolution of welfare to work funding to local councils.


On the constitutional front IPPR (North) favours metro mayors for West Yorkshire,Greater Manchester and Merseyside. It also favours two bodies to encompass the whole North of England, an Innovation Council and an annual convention of the 11 Northern Local Enterprise Partnerships.


This concept of bringing the whole of the North together chimes with a report published a year ago by the Smith Institute.


The abolition of the Regional Development Agencies was an act of supreme folly by the incoming government in 2010. Ministers seem to acknowledge that now as they seek to beef up the Local Enterprise Partnerships. But there is probably no going back to the pattern of Yorkshire Forward, One North East and England’s North West. IPPR (North) are right that we need to bring together the collective strength of the whole of the North.


My only regret is that the report has a democratic deficit. The people must be given a chance to elect a Council of the North so they can have a say in what is being done in their name. The presence of indirectly elected councillors would not be enough.


The report also highlights the importance of plans for the Liverpool Superport and Atlantic Gateway. Amidst all the gloom there are teams of people across the North West trying to cash in on the government’s commitment to infrastructure as a way out of the economic downturn. One of the biggest projects is Superport and Atlantic Gateway.


It has three components. A deep water terminal in Liverpool to take the larger ships that are now coming through the widened Panama Canal. The multi-modal Stobarts freight depot at Widnes and the new bridge across the Mersey linking Runcorn and Widnes.


Beyond that Peel Holdings have plans for port facilities all the way up the Manchester Ship Canal and with the Northern Hub rail improvements in Manchester expected to upgrade rail movements across to Leeds and beyond, we have a framework on which jobs and prosperity can be hung.


To be fair The Chancellor has pump primed some of these projects with government cash. Now we have to hope that the boost of infrastructure development isn’t overwhelmed by continued pessimism amongst bankers, investors and the public at large.


This is the time for hard pounding by Chancellor George Osborne when he makes his autumn statement next Wednesday.


The 2010 optimism that the economy would be on the turn by now has disappeared as the Bank of England cuts its growth forecast to 1%. The Bank is also predicting that inflation won’t fall to the government’s target of 2% until the middle of next year. That forecast should ensure that Mr Osborne cancels the planned increase in fuel tax at least.


The UK’s economic prospects have deteriorated since the Budget. This is most starkly illustrated in the fall in tax revenues the Treasury is receiving and also the higher welfare payments that are being paid out.


This is where Labour is on the attack accusing the Chancellor of digging himself into a hole that is counterproductive to getting the economy moving again. There is still some political capital in the Tories reminding people that ex Labour Minister Liam Byrne left office saying there was no money left; but not much.


The Tories and Lib Dems have been in charge of the economy for two and a half years now and the measures in this autumn statement will cast a long shadow towards the next election.


We are used to local councils across the North from Leeds to Liverpool crying foul when cuts are made in Town Hall budgets. But this year they really do seem to have a case. Having already made drastic savings, demands for further economies will bite into front line services. In Wirral for instance leaks suggest the entire Town Hall staff may be asked to reapply for their jobs.


The Institute For Fiscal Studies is predicting that austerity could last until 2018 and if this Autumn Statement is going to be a tough one, what can we expect? There’s speculation that the maximum tax-free annual pension contribution will be cut from £50,000 to £40,000 and there could be further increases in stamp duty on the sale of properties worth over £1m. However there is a real battle going on about the possible introduction of new council tax bands on high value houses. The Daily Mail claimed recently that Osborne and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg favour the move but the Prime Minister is resisting.


The Lib Dems are desperate that if they are to be associated with an austerity statement, they will be able nonetheless to show some evidence of their “fairness” agenda. This may come with an announcement that the income tax personal allowance will be raised to £10,000 by April 2015. That’s a month before the General Election when the voters will get their chance to decide if all this economic pain has been worth it.



At the Livercool Awards I had the pleasure to meet Anne McCartney. She works for Price Waterhouse Coopers in Shipley near Leeds. Anne is a keen supporter of the new Downtown Leeds project.


On polling day for the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner elections she was staffing a temporary polling station in a rough area of Leeds. A generator provided heat and power so that the few could vote in the election. However the generator expired, plunging voters and polling staff into darkness. The Town Hall was consulted by Anne but didn’t know what to do to keep the wheels of democracy turning.


Anne did. She set up a temporary polling station in her car until power was restored. That’s democracy in action. Well done Anne


The Tory conference hall in Birmingham was a place to go for a snooze (except when The Blonde Mop was speaking). But on the fringe there was plenty going on affecting every business in the North West.


Despite the BAE/EADS merger collapsing and the West Coast rail franchise descending into back biting and law suits, there was still a determination for the region to defy the recession with infrastructure projects.


There were lively fringe meetings put on by Atlantic Gateway, United Utilities and BAE, all stressing that they wanted to help the government grow its way out of the recession. Liverpool 2 Port Terminal had a prime location for its stand and there was news that HS2 is to be speeded up with plans for its route into the North West being published in the next few months.




The BAE/EADS merger drama was unfolding as the Tory conference was getting under way. The Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond were in Birmingham rather than in their normal power centres in Whitehall. On Monday night BAE hosted a long arranged fringe meeting and had to listen to Tory MPs and MEPs claiming BAE were about to be crushed between French and German interests if the merger went ahead. The BAE representative told us the proposed merger was “an opportunity not a necessity”.


By Tuesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s representative had called David Cameron in his hotel suite in Birmingham to indicate her wholesale objection to the deal.


This left North West Tories from Lancashire and Cumbria at the conference worried about the future of BAE. There was widespread criticism of the company’s senior managers who had been on the back foot since a leak had forced them to reveal a half-cooked agreement. Once the plans had been revealed BAE should have gone on the offensive selling the merits of a defence-civilian plane business link up. Instead they spent weeks on the defensive as criticism of the merger mounted.


Now the workforce at Warton,Salmesbury and Barrow are worried about the future for BAE in a world where defence orders are shrinking. Unions have attacked what they claim is a lack of a defence strategy by the British government.




If defence jobs are under threat in the northern part of our region, perhaps we need to look south to the arc of development potential stretching from Manchester Airport along the banks of the Mersey to Liverpool.


Atlantic Gateway held a fringe meeting in Birmingham to get over the message that 250,000 new jobs could be created from £14 bn of investment in everything from the Northern rail hub, Daresbury Science Park, the new Mersey bridge and the Liverpool/Wirral Waters project. Added to this the area has three enterprise zones and the Liverpool 2 Port Terminal which aims to attract freight that currently comes through Southampton and Felixstowe with ultimate destinations in the North.


Dennis Bate of Bovis LendLease said the Atlantic Gateway was just the sort of big scale project that wealth funds were looking to invest in. He told representatives that the era of looking to government for big money was over.


The meeting was going well until the new leader of Cheshire East Council Michael Jones cast doubt on Manchester and Liverpool’s commitment to Atlantic Gateway. It is true that in the past Manchester Council’s Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein has been less than enthusiastic about the concept but everyone agreed that unity was essential in backing big scale investment to counter the over heated London economy. How else can we compete with the capital which has at its head a man who dominated the conference?




That is apparently what David Cameron called Boris Johnson just before the latter he descended like a whirlwind on the conference.


Just as I wasn’t carried away by the media euphoria that surrounded Ed Miliband last week, nor was I impressed with the Prime Ministerial credentials of Boris. I rarely queue to get into meetings these days, but I did for Boris because he is interesting and entertaining. But is he really equipped for the hard grind of decision making that the office of Prime Minister requires? David Cameron’s speech had few jokes but he’s taking the tough decisions.


The truth is Boris beat a tired Ken Livingstone in the Mayoral election. He was a great cheerleader for the Olympics but, as he himself acknowledged, the success was down to excellent teams in the Olympic organising bodies.

A BBC poll of conference delegates yielded quite a close result when they were asked who their next leader should be. 60% said Boris 40% backed anyone else. The latter is quite a high figure and suggests that the Conservative Party is not wholly caught up in the Boris mania.


English Heritage isn’t the only organisation that Peel Holdings have to worry about now that they’ve got the go ahead for the Liverpool Waters scheme.

Lindsey Ashworth, the bullish development director for Peel, devoted much of his time at Liverpool’s Planning Committee to lashing English Heritage for their opposition to his plans for 150 acres of derelict dockland north of the Pier Head.

It is part of the much larger Atlantic Gateway project which stretches from the Wirral, up the Ship Canal to Salford Docks. That makes it an issue for the mighty Combined Authority of Greater Manchester and they have just fired a broadside across Peel’s bows.

A report suggests Wirral and Liverpool Waters should not be given priority by the Atlantic Gateway Board unless there is more robust evidence in its favour.

The authors are Mike Emmerich, boss of the New Economy policy think and Barbara Spicer, the Chief Executive of Salford Council.

They want evidence that there is market demand for such a large amount of Grade A commercial floor space outside a city centre. They demand an investment plan that shows the level of private investment and the cost of public support particularly in relation to infrastructure. They also question whether Liverpool/Wirral Waters will really contribute to the region’s Gross Value Added at minimum cost to the public purse.

We’ll see how significant these reservations are. Mr Ashworth is not a man to be easily put off his stride as he demonstrated in Liverpool Council Chamber this week.

He told the planning committee that he was seeking outline permission for the £5.5bn project after months of detailed work. Peel had tried to respond to heritage objections. The historic Dock Wall was being preserved although it put constraints on the scheme. But Ashworth claimed that English Heritage was still not satisfied. They seemed happy to leave the old docks to rot away. Peel would compromise no further and if there was a public inquiry, the company would walk away.

The planners gave the scheme the go ahead and take Ashworth’s threat so seriously that Liverpool Council leader Joe Anderson is seeking talks with the government to try and prevent a public inquiry.

It is possible to interpret this as over mighty behaviour by Peel Holdings which must recognise that it is operating in a democracy. Alternatively one can admire the commitment of this organisation to transformational change in North Liverpool.

It is now an issue in the mayoral election campaign with Joe Anderson backing Peel and independent candidate Liam Fogarty expressing his concern and not wanting to be elected mayor of “Liverpeel.”

The Liverpool City Region now has no excuse but to get its act together.

This week I went to the final event organised by The Mersey Partnership (TMP). Its economic review of the sub region was comprehensive and helpful.

Absent of course was Lorraine Rogers the organisation’s former Chief Executive. It took her resignation to break the log jam and pave the way next week for TMP to transform itself into The Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership under the leadership of Robert Hough. He will bring his renowned diplomatic skills to the task of welding the 6 districts together.

Rogers wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s been suggested staff cheered on the news of her departure. Whatever the truth of that, Rogers deserves a lot of credit for the good work done by the TMP. The world of economic regeneration is far too dominated by men and it is a shame that Lorraine had to be a casualty of the process.