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.


The aerospace industry is vital to the North West economy, so the chance to partly assemble 126 Eurofighter Typhoon jets for the Indian Air Force must be fought for.

On a visit to Westminster this week I gained evidence that much is going on behind the scenes even though preferred bidder status has been given to the French.

Ben Wallace, the MP for Wyre and Preston North, along with his colleague Mark Menzies (Fylde) met the Prime Minister on Monday. Eyebrows had been raised when news came through that the French had stolen a march on us, because David Cameron visited India with a big trade delegation soon after coming into office.

Now more details are emerging about the situation which could have implications for the workforce at Salmesbury, Warton and beyond. The strength of the French bid apparently lies in their tie up with the Reliance Group, India’s largest private sector conglomerate. With annual revenues of $58bn it is far larger than Tata, the Indian company which owns the Jaguar plant at Halewood.

However this deal is far from done and with David Cameron on the case, efforts will be made to expose the weaknesses of the French position. I’m told Reliance has no track record in aerospace and there is very little detail on price which could be significant as the French are desperate to get a foreign order for their Rafale jet. 700 of the Eurofighters have already been sold.

Ben Wallace emerged from his meeting with the PM confident there was all to play for. Apparently in similar negotiations for these aircraft the preferred bidder has been overtaken on six occasions.

Wallace is a Conservative MP in the tradition of former members like David Trippier (Rossendale) and Malcolm Thornton (Crosby). They are Tories that believe that to be successful in the North West; it helps to come from the liberal One Nation part of the party.

Wallace has been in the House since 2005 but faces a brutal internal party battle to maintain his political career. Boundary changes are likely to see him, Mark Menzies (Fylde) and Eric Ollerenshaw (Fleetwood and Lancaster) competing for just two seats.

During our time together at the Commons  we bumped into Wallace’s neighbour Jack Straw (Blackburn). Jack seems to be almost equally concerned aboutIranand Blackburn Rovers these days. He feels his successor as Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is underestimating the growing crisis surrounding Iran.

On the crisis at Ewood Park Jack had made an unusual move for an MP, in calling for manager Steve Keen to go. He seemed unimpressed when I remarked that Rovers had been doing a bit better recently.

Around the Commons corridors much of the talk is about elected mayors and Police Crime Commissioners. Ben Wallace told me he’s lining up an ex-soldier colleague of his to contest the position for the Lancashire Police Authority.

On the mayoral front I had an interesting chat with former Labour Minister and Wythenshawe MP Paul Goggins. There has been a general feeling that Manchester will vote “no” in the May referendum on whether to have a directly elected mayor with council leader Sir Richard Leese being against the idea.

However Goggins does not rule out a “yes” vote in Manchester pointing out that in neighbouring Salford last month every ward voted “yes” in a referendum triggered by a local businessman. So although the turnout was low, support was consistent across that city.

Following the “yes” vote, candidates have piled in to be the Labour nominees. The former Eccles MP Ian Stewart, has been joined by Salford council leader John Merry and former Labour National Executive Committee member Peter Wheeler.