For years business has moaned about our poor productivity figures in the North. So what are we actually going to do about it?

The North West Business Leadership Team(NWBLT) have come up with some practical suggestions but also some stark analysis of the scale of the problem. People in this country work some of the longest hours in Europe but our output is below the average of the G7. Although we have recovered from the 2008-12 recession with growth reasonably healthy and unemployment and inflation low; productivity has remained flat. The NWBLT warn that if this remains the case as the Living Wage comes in, unemployment will be on the way up again.

Manchester is seen as the heart of the Northern Powerhouse yet it still has big problems with its in-work productivity which is £8.2 bn below the UK national average, the greatest shortfall of any of the core cities. As NWBLT Chief Executive Geoffrey Piper recently pointed out only Cheshire and Warrington are above the national average in the North. Manchester’s problem is due to poor skills levels of course, but also shortcomings in transport. Manchester is getting a reputation for chronic congestion on the roads and trains. Recent announcements may address the latter but regarding the endless traffic jams, do you hear murmurings about another attempt to introduce congestion charging?

The NWBLT feel that the vision of a Northern Powerhouse as a truly competitive global economy will remain a distant dream until productivity is improved. So they have come up with some sensible, but quite tough policies. One is to link early introduction of the Living Wage directly to enhanced training for relevant qualifications. Another is to channel government research and development money into Performance Bonds and remove it from under=productive assets. The NWBLT want a Regional Productivity Index to measure performance every quarter by Local Enterprise Partnership area; and they want support for the national Productivity Leadership initiatives on process efficiency, digitalisation and working practices.

Juergen Maier, the Chief Executive of Siemens UK is chair of the NWBLT and wants urgent implementation of his report because he sees caution returning among business leaders. This is due to a number of factors including volatility in the Chinese economy, Middle East conflict and uncertainty over the E.U referendum. Maier believes there are other domestic factors that are unsettling business including the implementation of the apprenticeship levy on larger firms, cuts in industry support and the need for a stronger narrative about the aims of the northern Powerhouse beyond transport.

The Chancellor clearly shares Maier’s analysis of the economy. In November at the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review, George Osborne was bullishly confident that he’d repaired the roof while the sun was shining. Perhaps it was the floods or a fear that he had induced complacency, that has lead to his current reminders that the austerity programme is far from over.

Whatever the prospects for the Northern economy in 2016, they will be improved in the long term if everyone if everyone implements the NWBLT report” Unlocking our Potential: Solving the productivity puzzle.”



English Heritage isn’t the only organisation that Peel Holdings have to worry about now that they’ve got the go ahead for the Liverpool Waters scheme.

Lindsey Ashworth, the bullish development director for Peel, devoted much of his time at Liverpool’s Planning Committee to lashing English Heritage for their opposition to his plans for 150 acres of derelict dockland north of the Pier Head.

It is part of the much larger Atlantic Gateway project which stretches from the Wirral, up the Ship Canal to Salford Docks. That makes it an issue for the mighty Combined Authority of Greater Manchester and they have just fired a broadside across Peel’s bows.

A report suggests Wirral and Liverpool Waters should not be given priority by the Atlantic Gateway Board unless there is more robust evidence in its favour.

The authors are Mike Emmerich, boss of the New Economy policy think and Barbara Spicer, the Chief Executive of Salford Council.

They want evidence that there is market demand for such a large amount of Grade A commercial floor space outside a city centre. They demand an investment plan that shows the level of private investment and the cost of public support particularly in relation to infrastructure. They also question whether Liverpool/Wirral Waters will really contribute to the region’s Gross Value Added at minimum cost to the public purse.

We’ll see how significant these reservations are. Mr Ashworth is not a man to be easily put off his stride as he demonstrated in Liverpool Council Chamber this week.

He told the planning committee that he was seeking outline permission for the £5.5bn project after months of detailed work. Peel had tried to respond to heritage objections. The historic Dock Wall was being preserved although it put constraints on the scheme. But Ashworth claimed that English Heritage was still not satisfied. They seemed happy to leave the old docks to rot away. Peel would compromise no further and if there was a public inquiry, the company would walk away.

The planners gave the scheme the go ahead and take Ashworth’s threat so seriously that Liverpool Council leader Joe Anderson is seeking talks with the government to try and prevent a public inquiry.

It is possible to interpret this as over mighty behaviour by Peel Holdings which must recognise that it is operating in a democracy. Alternatively one can admire the commitment of this organisation to transformational change in North Liverpool.

It is now an issue in the mayoral election campaign with Joe Anderson backing Peel and independent candidate Liam Fogarty expressing his concern and not wanting to be elected mayor of “Liverpeel.”

The Liverpool City Region now has no excuse but to get its act together.

This week I went to the final event organised by The Mersey Partnership (TMP). Its economic review of the sub region was comprehensive and helpful.

Absent of course was Lorraine Rogers the organisation’s former Chief Executive. It took her resignation to break the log jam and pave the way next week for TMP to transform itself into The Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership under the leadership of Robert Hough. He will bring his renowned diplomatic skills to the task of welding the 6 districts together.

Rogers wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s been suggested staff cheered on the news of her departure. Whatever the truth of that, Rogers deserves a lot of credit for the good work done by the TMP. The world of economic regeneration is far too dominated by men and it is a shame that Lorraine had to be a casualty of the process.