If only we could have an election now some Tory politicians might be thinking as they begin their summer break. A new born prince, the heatwave and cycling and cricket success have given our spirits a boost. Most important of all there is a feeling that the economy is turning even in the North which always lags behind the South East because of successive governments’ failure to have an effective regional policy.


House prices are edging up here and jobs are being created in the private sector to help absorb the haemorrhaging of public employment. In that connection the news from Bentley in Crewe that they are to build the company’s new sports utility vehicle enhances the North West’s successful car industry alongside Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood.


The key man in all this is the Chancellor George Osborne. He rivals the Prime Minister in importance when it comes to trying to stear the Tories to an outright victory in 2015. This is partly because of his power over economic decision making but also because of his central role in political strategy. For this reason Labour call him the part time Chancellor. It is a foolish charge. It makes sense to have Osborne tied closely to political decision making.

It is Osborne’s belief in concentrating on the main issue of economic recovery that has led to the ditching of “peripheral” issues like plain packet fags and a minimum price for alcohol. Lynton Crosby, the Tory party advisor has taken the hit for this regrettable U turn, but the Chancellor will have been involved.


I recently took the opportunity to observe George Osborne up close. He was giving a lecture in memory of that great broadcaster and champion of the North Brian Redhead. To the Chancellor’s credit, he spoke a lot about Brian and didn’t use the occasion for a bog standard political message.


He acknowledged the importance of having a northern constituency (Tatton). He told us his daughter had just been made Rose Queen at her school at Wildboarclough in Cheshire and that he was aware that things looked different from a northern perspective. That was certainly Brian Redhead’s view, Mr Osborne told his audience He missed out on the editorship of the Guardian because he refused to move south with the paper. For a long time he co-presented the Today programme from Manchester until being forced to join his colleagues in London. I used to join him on the train north on a Friday and he always said he was glad to be coming home.


Osborne concluded by observing that the North was not a monolith and should not be stereotyped. Although Redhead had worked in Manchester, he was born in the North East and lived in the Peak District. The Chancellor claimed that Cheshire had more private sector jobs than London.


It was an interesting and different sort of speech from a man that it is not easy to warm to. What will matter in the next two years however is not being liked but keeping the economic recovery going as interest rates begin to rise.


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“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