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.


A source at Jaguar Land Rover tells me that Lorraine Rogers has a new job with them. The former Chief Executive of The Mersey Partnership apparently has two roles. One as a global brand director and another taking care of royal protocol.  Zara Phillips is a brand ambassador for the Halewood produced Range Rover Evoque.

Rogers resigned earlier this year as Chief Executive of the Mersey Partnership, paving the way for it to be absorbed into the new Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

I’m told a local newspaper is currently trying to get Lorraine to spill the beans on how hard it is for women to provide leadership in the macho world of Merseyside politics and business.

Tributes were paid to the work of The Mersey Partnership at the first meeting of the stakeholders in the Liverpool LEP this week.
The LEP is now in the hands of Robert Hough, a man vastly experienced in the politics of the North West.

He faces a big challenge in establishing the Liverpool LEP as the agency best placed to represent the interests of the city region stretching from Runcorn and Southport to Wirral and St Helens.

It’s not an easy task now that Liverpool has an elected mayor seeking to expand his influence. Also on the territory is Liverpool Vision, an agency that many see as the best vehicle to promote tourism across the city region rather than the LEP.

Not that the Liverpool LEP lacks people to exert its influence. Unlike the tiny organisations that run LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, the Merseyside operation has taken in most of the 55 staff from TMP.

It was therefore ironic that David Frost, the head of the national LEP Network, should choose this occasion to call for better resourcing of LEPs across the country.

When the government recklessly scrapped the North West’s regional structure, they pledged that the LEPs would be free of the costly bureaucracy that, they claimed, was a feature of the development agencies.
But two years on here was Mr Frost telling delegates that LEPs couldn’t drive economic success on a shoestring. Key staff were needed for marketing and research.

I’m sure he’s right that for LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire to become really effective, you do need people on the ground. So business needs to put its hand in its pocket because the public sector is skint.

My quarrel is with the government who thought that such organisations needed neither funding nor people.

Robert Hough’s task as chairman is to get members who signed up for The Mersey Partnership to remain with the new organisation. He told them it would be worth it as the Liverpool LEP concentrates on key sectors like Low Carbon, the Super Port, advanced manufacturing and the visitor economy.

He forecast that new activities could be given
to our LEPs. Lord Heseltine was looking at giving them a role in venture capital funding.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson pledged cooperation with 80% of the LEP’s activities but was clear that issues like World Heritage Status were matters for the city alone.

The LEP has to recognise that the name Liverpool is the attack brand on a global basis. The city has to realise that many of the economic engines of the sub region lie outside the city’s boundaries. Unilever and Cammell Laird are on the Wirral; Pilkington’s is in St Helens.

As we say so often politicians and business leaders need to work together across the city region to realise its full potential.