A government weakened by scandal and divided over its approach to Europe continues with its ill-starred attempt to leave the European Union.

One leading Brexiteer Cabinet Minister Priti Patel has resigned, but another, Boris Johnson is still in place despite risking extending the detention of a British national in Iran.

Immigrant workers, vital to our caring services, are staying away, jobs are going at British Aerospace in Lancashire and Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port. Both industries rely on the easy movement of parts across borders. Thousands of lawyers and civil servants are being taken on to deal with the whole miserable negative exercise of Brexit. (No doubt their wages will be coming out of the £350m a week that was promised for the NHS.) The port of Dover is making plans for the huge congestion that will build up after March 2019.

So how is all this affecting the heart of the Northern Powerhouse? What is the economic outlook in Greater Manchester as the Budget approaches? I’ve been testing economic opinion which indicates that the crash that was forecast immediately after the EU referendum didn’t happen because of a credit boom and the growth of car leasing. It is felt that is now coming to an end as inflation and now the rise in interest rates kicks in. There is a fall in business confidence amidst the chronic Brexit uncertainty with a demand that the 2019-21 transitional agreement be broadly in line with the final agreement.

Northern economists believe we are looking at a growth rate of 1.5% not 2.5% that was previously hoped for. Looking further into the future we need to prepare for automation, robotics and paying more for UK workers as immigration falls.

In Greater Manchester next year jobs growth is expected to be flat. Employment in retail and financial services will be weak. Mike Blackburn, boss of the Local Enterprise Partnership, is worried that ministers don’t realise the impact Brexit will have on an area which exports 58% of its goods to the EU compared to a national average of 42%. He wants powers returned from the EU devolved to the North.

The Chancellor will be under severe pressure in the Budget to do more on housing. Steve Rumbelow, CEO of Rochdale Council, wants a major programme of council house building. He points out that permission for 50,000 houses in Greater Manchester are not being exercised.

Joanne Roney has had a quiet start since succeeding Sir Howard Bernstein as CEO of Manchester Council. She has indicated her priority is people rather than infrastructure development which characterised her predecessor’s tenure. She identified poor school starts for a large section of Manchester pupils fed into poor GCSE performance leaving colleges to teach Level 2 skills.

Eamonn Boylan is charged with looking at the picture across Greater Manchester as CEO of the Combined Authority. The spatial strategy which deals with the use of green belt and brownfield land is being rewritten after running into opposition from Mayor Burnham, is being rewritten.

Boylan points out the devolution deal is much more about powers than giving the city region money. Promises over devolving power over adult skills had still not been delivered. Local politicians and officers had many bright ideas about what could be done locally. For instance, there was an abundance of advice on how to get to university but very little on taking up vocational courses.

So that’s a sample of the thinking of people charged with putting the concept of the Northern Powerhouse into reality. But they are handicapped by the shadow of Brexit. Let’s hope for a substantial change in popular opinion that would allow Labour to oppose our leaving the EU and we could have an Exit to Brexit.

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It looks as if AstraZeneca is safe, for now, but the attempted takeover by Pfizer begs some important questions about our politicians relations with big business. This came to a head as I watched MPs trying to hold these mega companies to account last week.
Down the corridor they came for all the world like prize fighters heading for the ring. Large security men with ear pieces and stern expressions escorted the Pfizer representatives into the Commons committee hearing.
Pfizer make Viagra and it shows. AstraZeneca’s representatives entrance was equally impressive. Big Pharma was on display but Andrew Miller was ready for them. He’s the MP for Ellesmere Port, close to Cheshire’s chemical industry and he was once a lab technician.
Early in the hearing Ian C Read, CEO of Pfizer, (all top American executives have a middle letter) admitted there would be less scientists if the takeover went ahead.
“Shouldn’t there be more not less scientists?” asked Mr Miller.
Ian C Read said he didn’t know enough about AZ to answer that.
“You knew enough to make a £50bn bid” retorted the former lab technician.
And so it went on. MPs in the committee room asking detailed questions of Pfizer and Astra Zeneca executives followed by the Science Minister “two brains” David Willetts. The day before the hearing the Business Secretary, Vince The Cable, had hinted darkly that public interest legislation might be strengthened to protect vital British industries. Two Brains kept telling MPs he couldn’t go further than his master.
Exasperated a bearded West country Liberal Democrat David Heath put the killer question. “If the takeover goes through and promises are broken, there is nothing the government can do about it is there?”. Wlliett’s called that “an excessively bleak view” , in other words no.
That isn’t entirely true. I met David Rutley outside the committee room. We both agreed that we couldn’t get too worked up about poor little Astra Zeneca getting gobbled up by Pfizer after they took most of their work away from Alderley Park to Cambridge. Nevertheless Rutley pointed to research and development grants that are in the government’s gift. He wanted some sabre rattling from Vince The Cable.
As it is it looks as if AZ have seen off the takeover for six months at least. They still employ 700 staff at Alderley Park and the worst effects of their moving the rest of their business to Cambridge has been mitigated by the takeover of Alderley Park by Manchester Sciences Parks. AZ are putting £5m into a fund to nurture talent on the site.
Alderley Park is to become a campus for bioscience companies and we must hope some brilliant discoveries are made there because that is the way to protect our science excellence.
Although they mean well our national politicians, of all parties, believe in Britain being an open country to foreign investment and ownership. They will always make the right noises when these takeovers arise but the truth is we will have to take the rough (Kraft /Cadbury) with the smooth (TataTata/JLR).