The latest government industrial strategy was launched this week. Let’s hope it lasts. History tells us it won’t. Business is certainly sceptical having made investment decisions in the past based on Whitehall plans which ministers lose interest in after the first sound bites have gone away or a new set of young advisers have come up with a new plan for a new minister.

The other reason past initiatives to boost productivity, wages and the Northern economy have disappeared is because of changes in government. The use of state control during the war led to the Attlee government’s confidence in a nationalisation programme. The Thatcher government reversed this and until 2008 it was generally accepted that capitalism and the private sector would guarantee economic success. All that changed after the crash and ten years on we are reaping the whirlwind of people’s distrust in markets, experts and globalisation.

This Industrial Strategy shows that the Conservatives are now committed to the state having a real role in intervening in the economy. To a considerable extent this has been driven by the success the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has had in identifying people’s distaste for rampant capitalism.

That brings me back to the question businesses are asking, will it last? Possibly if Greg Clarke, one of the abler members of the Cabinet stays in post and if Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t get into Downing Street. His industrial strategy based on nostalgia for the Attlee days would look very different.


The industrial strategy is targeted at the construction industry, life sciences, driverless cars and artificial intelligence. So, there is an emphasis on high tech jobs. The question is will this help with our chronic lack of productivity. Most companies in the North operating at the cutting edge of research are productive but 60% of jobs are in retail and manufacturing which is where the productivity problem really lies. There are 40% more jobs in retail than pharmaceutical. The industrial strategy is too narrow to address this widespread problem.

It is also in danger of being southern focused. Currently only 10% of research spending is in the North. The investment by healthcare giant MSD in Manchester is to be welcomed but confidence in the Northern Powerhouse is shaky at the moment. There is a growing sense outside the Manchester and Liverpool conurbations that the whole project is city based. Of course, one answer to that is for counties like Lancashire and Yorkshire to stop squabbling and get their act together. But the piecemeal approach of governments since 2010 to devolution has not helped. Transport for the North (TfN) is a big step forward but in outlining its new powers recently, the government document contained weasel words about “formally considering” TfN’s statutory transport strategy and TfN’s right to be “consulted” on rail franchises. It does not have the same powers as transport for London.

Finally, there has been a bitter reaction from local government. Whilst mayoral areas will have full control over their local industrial strategies, other councils feel they have been excluded from playing a role at the expense of the Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs). This despite the fact that ministers are calling on LEPs to address problems relating to their leadership, governance and accountability.

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The last leaves are falling from the trees but George Osborne will be pointing to the green shoots on Thursday in his Autumn Statement.


If there is going to be a turning point for this awkward coalition government, this should be it. Apart from that sunny day in the Downing Street rose garden when the two posh boys (as I called them at the time) did the coalition deal, we have lived through unremitting economic gloom. Business investment dried up, the banks went into their shell, wages were frozen, interest rates went to zero. Only inflation seemed to go up.


Now at last the economic indicators are looking up and the North of England will be hoping for some sensible decisions from George Osborne to help our part of the world. Although places like Liverpool have shown more resilience than in the past, the North has suffered under the ConLibs particularly in the haemorrhaging of public sector jobs and the popular squeeze on benefits.


Unemployment has actually been slightly rising this autumn in the North West and the squeeze on living standards continues as the controversy continues over zero hours contracts. Youth and graduate unemployment remains a real problem in the North and the shortage of new houses remains.


So why might this be a turning point for the government. Simply because it looks as if the Chancellor will have all the economic indicators pointing in the right direction for the election in 2015. The news on headline growth and the deficit will be good. Economists are forecasting the following growth figures: 2013 1.6%, 2014 2.3%, 2015 2.5%.


Its expected George Osborne will revise down unemployment and inflation figures. There may even be expectations of real wage growth. We’ll then have to wait to see if there is aresponse in terms of business investment.


The Chancellor is likely to make much of new figures showing a reduction in public borrowing forecasts, perhaps down to £80bn by 2015/16.


Sweeteners for the voters will follow the already announced free school meals and marriage tax breaks. Petrol prices are likely to be held down again and personal tax allowances are likely to rise.


The headline measure is likely to be the transfer of “the green crap” that the Prime Minister referred to from energy bills to general taxation.


So will Labour be blown out of the water by all this. Ed Balls can no longer entertain us with his flat lining gestures in the Commons. Well not entirely, the living wage issue has been well handled by Mr Ed. The real wage gap from peak remains substantial and GDP per capita in 2015 will be way below the last good Labour year of 2008. Then there is the psychological issue that the Tories fear. If people think the economic pressure is off may they feel they can vote Labour again and get away from all that nasty Tory economic rigour?


The Lib Dems will remain associated with Budgets and Autumn Statements right up to the election but we will increasingly hear from them the message that they prevented even more vicious cuts from the Tories and lifted millions out of paying tax which, they claim, was not a Conservative priority.


After his statement, the Chancellor will pray that the polls will start turning like the economic indicators. Realistically all the Tories can hope for is to be the largest party in 2015. However if the voters want to punish them for three years of misery and forget Gordon Brown’s administration, then they will hand over a repaired economy to Mr Ed.





So now we know how those millionaires secured their tax break in the recent budget…. dining at Dave’s Dodgy Downing Street diner.

Mind you Labour is in no position to point fingers with the Unite union effectively choosing the next Labour leader and possible Prime Minister.

Nor are the Lib Dems in the clear on the issue of party funding, remember their association with donor Michael Brown who was convicted of fraud?

We’re told politicians hate these fund raising dinners when they have to sit for hours over the rubber chicken listening to some boring, but hopelessly wealthy donor, droning on about the 50p tax rate.

Well let’s put them out of their misery.

I’m a member of the Richard the Third Society. We campaign to correct the wholly distorted image of this fine king by that Tudor spin doctor Will Shakespeare. We can only spend the subscriptions we receive. It is the same for thousands of clubs and organisations all over the country.

So let the political parties survive on what they can get individual members to pay, with a ceiling of £5000.

I can hear the howls of anguish now. The democratic process will grind to a halt! The parties won’t be able to communicate with the voters!

What does this communication amount to? In the years between elections the parties tick over, selecting candidates, fighting local elections and spending modest amounts of money. When the General Election comes all reason is cast to the wind and millions are spent on posters, battle buses and political consultants. The mounting debts can be left for another day.

Most of what that money is spent on irritates the public profoundly. That’s why the concept of state aid (you and I paying for it in our taxes) is a non runner.

There is an argument that the political parties should be able to communicate with us directly on TV without the interference of journalists. So I propose that the BBC be charged with producing the party political broadcasts out of the licence fee money.

Not an appropriate use of the licence fee? Sorry that principle has been breeched already with BBC money being siphoned off to pay for digital switchover.

Most attention has focused on the Tories but Labour has become far too dependent on the unions. Union barons bankroll the party up to 90%. Ed Miliband denounces most strikes, so we can’t say this arrangement buys the barons much effect on policy. But the unions did bring their influence to bear in the leadership election. With rank and file members and MPs backing David Miliband, it was the union vote that secured Ed his victory. After the Bradford West debacle many in the party think the unions made a bad call.

Union members should have to positively opt in to having part of their sub paid to the Labour Party. I think most would and if not, that’s tough.

In any other walk of life if you want someone to give you money, you have to provide a product or service that they want. So it should be in politics. Then we stop this endless cycle of scandal as parties try to raise money either from dodgy characters or people expecting influence.