Lancashire and Cheshire want to be major players in the Northern Powerhouse. There is frustration that the project all seems to be about Manchester. I’ve been to Preston and Chester to find out what these areas have to offer the great project to bring power from Whitehall to the North.

Edwin Booth is the dapper boss of that excellent chain of supermarkets, Booths. He chairs the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and is just the man for the job. His quiet charm is what is needed in a county notorious for local authority in fighting. If it isn’t Lancashire County Council v the districts, then its Blackburn and Blackpool v Preston. Then we have Chorley’s bid for unitary status and Wyre refusing to join the bid for a Combined Authority.

Mr Booth told me at a Downtown event last week that he is confident Wyre will come on side for the devolution bid although, as in Cheshire, the stumbling block could still be the government’s insistence on an elected mayor despite the more rural nature of these areas.

The LEPs are supposed to be driven by business with local councils playing a supportive role. The trouble was at the beginning the government were so vague about their structure and purpose when they were set up that councils were often forced to play a major role. Edwin Booth told the Downtown meeting that he soon hoped to detach the LEP from County Hall in Preston. There is speculation that he might take the council’s officers involved in partnership matters with him.

Booth is keen on good relations with Manchester and wants to improve connectivity to the M62 but he is also concerned about transpennine connections further north. He wants a new bridge across the Ribble near Preston but above all he wants to raise the county’s prosperity which is 75% of the national average. Enterprise Zones are up and running in places like Salmesbury and Blackpool, Fleetwood is next.

Booth sees the Lancashire LEP as an agent of transformation using city deal and growth funds but would like powers over skills training in secondary schools. The government’s offer at the moment only covers post 18s, when many argue it is too late.


The Chester Forum at the impressive MBNA headquarters heard the Northern Powerhouse (NP) described as a sham by property developer Guy Butler who heads the city’s Growth Partnership. He was concerned that the NP was a distraction to cover for the fundamental change going on in local authority funding. The idea is that central grants will cease and councils will be able to keep all their business rates. It is a scheme that will massively benefit London whilst northern councils with much lower property values will suffer. Butler also wondered whether Chester should be part of the NP or should see itself as a hub for an area including North East Wales with its significant employment centre around Airbus in Broughton.

Phillip Cox, the CEO of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP was in no doubt that the area was part of the NP. The fastest growing LEP in the North, Cox pointed out that more people travelled into the area than out. The idea that the sub region was a dormitory for Manchester was a myth. As in Lancashire talks on a devolution deal continue, but once again the issue of an elected mayor may prove a stumbling block.

Sam Dixon, the new Labour leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council made an impressive début speaking out about the disruption that would be caused to local government by a Brexit vote. Rules on shared Town Hall services were in EU directives that would all have to be rewritten, and furthermore the LEP had received £142m in regional development grants.

So on the flanks of the Northern Powerhouse, the debate remains lively about its future.



Having swept away all the organisations that were helping the Northern economy, the Coalition government has spent the last few years building them up again.

Although the patchwork of Local Enterprise Partnerships(LEPs), Mayoral Zones and Regional Growth Funds will never make up for the lost coherence of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in the North West and Yorkshire, there are signs that some LEPs are getting to grips with their task.

This is important as the Chancellor has signified this week that he may be getting serious about doing something to empower the North, sandwiched as it is between Scotland and London which both want for nothing in terms of government spending.

The Northern Way, which was the umbrella organisation for the northern RDAs, would have been the perfect organisation to deliver the trans Pennine HS3 rail link that George Osborne envisages. We will have to wait and see how the project is to be managed if this announcement is anything other than a smokescreen for the complete lack of a coherent policy for the North.

Another example of the government’s incoherence has been with elected mayors. First they wanted them just for cities and with no extra power. Now they want them for city regions with some real power and money.

Liverpool in particular could do with a city region mayor to bring democratic accountability to the LEP which has substantial achievements under its belt. A mayor who covered the whole sub region from Wirral to St Helens would also help solve the current impasse with the Liverpool Combined Authority (CA) of councils. This is caused by the fact that Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral, heads the organisation rather than the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson.

The government will have a tough job selling the concept of an elected mayor for the whole of Greater Manchester for a number of reasons. Manchester residents rejected the concept for their city, and there is already an elected mayor in Salford. Furthermore the LEP under chair Mike Blackburn, the Combined Authority under Lord Smith of Wigan and Manchester City Council led by Sir Richard Leese are already driving economic regeneration effectively.

The Liverpool LEP has an impressive record too, partly helped because it inherited the Mersey Partnership. It has 450 subscribing private sector members. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics concerning growth rates shows Liverpool as ninth out of 39 LEPs in the UK.

Liverpool LEP is hoping to be allocated a good chunk of the £2bn Local Growth Fund to be announced soon and is coordinating the spending of 221 million Euros it has been allocated from European coffers.

Specific achievements include helping fibre optic company Tratos expand in Knowsley with the creation of 100 jobs. The LEPs Business Growth Grant will help create 2000 new jobs and the New Markets Programme, developed by the LEP is helping small businesses get a 35% subsidy for their growth plans. Meanwhile the Skills for Growth Bank, backed by the LEP has approved £2.5m for business growth.

The Liverpool LEP is headed up by Robert Hough who has patiently rebuilt an organisation to support business after being chairman of the North West Development Agency when it was swept away. A quietly efficient man who does not seek the headlines, his organisation’s profile might be improved if its boundaries were shared with an elected mayor for the same area.

Politicians bring campaigns and the media spotlight would then perhaps be turned on to the somewhat dry world of economic regeneration.

Personally I believe if the government wants city region mayors, they should legislate for them. There are enough referenda in the air at the moment.

In the meantime the Liverpool LEP will get on with the job of bringing employment to the City Region.


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.