An agonised call for the elected mayors of Merseyside to stop their power battles and get on with promoting the city region was made at a Downtown event in the city this week.

Many of the movers and shakers in the area were kind enough to give their time to look at the city’s development in the ten years since Capital of Culture and what the next decade has in store.

The overriding desire was for Liverpool City mayor Joe Anderson and City Region mayor Steve Rotheram to end their rivalry, agree on who does what, and get on with attracting business and tourism to the area.

The main frustration focuses on the many agencies that are doing bits and pieces to attract jobs and visitors. The demand is for one point of contact, particularly for tourism. The consensus was that this is a job for the city region. Acknowledging that Liverpool is the brand, it was felt that the city region should have this strategic role.

The way in which successive governments have devolved power in the UK is partly to blame. At the Downtown meeting, it was pointed out that the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly could put major funding into attracting business and tourism. Aberdeen and Cardiff are building new conference centres on the back of that. In England, limited power and money has been given to a complex model of Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities. In Merseyside and Greater Manchester, the structure of elected city regional mayors over the top of the proud cities of Manchester and Liverpool is a recipe for rivalry. There are some signs of tension in Greater Manchester but the ten districts generally rub along together. Merseyside on the other hand has had a controversial history at local government level with Wirral and Southport wanting to break away, not to mention the Militant era. The business community had hoped all that was well in the past. Liverpool is transformed compared to twenty years ago but this model of city and city region mayor couldn’t have been better designed to revive the old dysfunctional problems.

Added to the structural problems we have two strong personalities. Joe Anderson, passionate for his city, has done great work since 2010 but he wanted to move on to the wider city region stage. In his way was his old friend Steve Rotheram. A way out would have been for Joe to take over from Steve as MP for Walton. That elegant solution was blocked by Unite The Union who wanted their man in Walton.

Now business people in Liverpool are confused about the powers of both mayors at a time when they know that more will be expected of them in terms of promoting jobs and tourism as the cuts continue to bite in the public sector.

The Downtown event concluded that the next ten years are going to be harder after the rapid progress of the last decade. Specific attention was paid to the continuing problems of accessing the city centre from the M62 and the need to fill hotels during the week. In this respect the city seems to have an opposite problem to many other places who find attracting weekend guests a challenge.

One of the most striking views at the Downtown meeting was that, in respect of tourists visiting Britain, the national image was being tarnished by Brexit. It was thought this could be an opportunity for the Liverpool City Region to promote itself separately.

Let’s hope the mayoral problems can be sorted out because the meeting agreed that the Liverpool City Region with that to-die-for waterfront, friendly people and the enduring power of the Beatles gives it potentially great prospects for the future.

Follow me @JimHancockUK.






It would be easy to be cynical about this week’s Cabinet meeting that was held in Cheshire. Ministers forced out of their Whitehall offices to gather in the frozen North.A quick photo opportunity, meetings with hand picked business people( but definitely not the public), then back to London.

On this occasion however there was a real point in coming North.After a wobble last summer Theresa May seems to be taking the Northern Powerhouse (NP) seriously.As part of the new industrial strategy,  the NP is getting a £556m cash boost.Much of this will be channeled through the Local Enterprise Partnerships who,its hoped will begin to raise their profiles as engines of growth,productivity and skills. Among the specific schemes are £10m for small businesses in Greater Manchester and Cheshire involved in the new industries around life sciences. Our heritage is not forgotten with plans for a major revamp for Blackpool’s Winter gardens. The resort hopes it will encourage the political parties back from Birmingam and Manchester for their annual conferences. I think the hotel offer will have to improve before that happens.

The main thrust of the new industrial strategy is for government to target help on particular sectors were future jobs will come from. Juergen Maier,the boss of Siemens UK will head up a review into the impact of digitalisation across industry. Other sectors indentified include life sciences,the nuclear and creative industries.

We have seen many industrial strategies come and go and yet UK productivity remains stubbornly behind our competitors. It is an issue that the new leader of the  North West Busienss Leadership Team will be taking up. It is to be welcomed that they have appointed a woman, Emma Degg. The North West business scene remains very male, if not stale. Degg used to work for the North West Development Agency which was doing good work in all these fields until it was scrapped for petty political reasons by the Coalition government.

The Business Secretary Greg Clarke is in charge of this strategy. He is one of the better Tory Cabinet Ministers having gained a good reputation when he held the Local Government portfolio. He has identified ten strategic pillars. We shall see if they are Greg’s ten pillars of wisdom.Besides the obvious ones of skills and science research, there is to be a drive to improve government procurement and deliver clean energy growth. Restoring the subsidies would be a start.

Improving productivity is a long term challenge which requires better management and a better educated and motivated workforce.In that connection let’s hope the specialist maths schools and technical colleges mark a move away from an excessive emphasis on university education. Vocational qualifications will be as useful as a degree in the next few years.

The question remains how robust this industrial strategy will be as the consequences of Brexit and the Trump Presidency begin to kick in.

Follow me at uk.








Angela Merkel arrives at passport control at Athens airport. She is asked “Name?”  The German Chancellor replies “Angela Merkel”. “Occupation?” “No,I’m only here for three days.” I was told that one by a German friend by the way before you accuse me of old stereotypes. But at a time when relations are very tense between the successful Germans and the struggling Greeks, it might be worth considering how Greek and British small and medium sized businesses might benefit from the Mittelstand way of doing things.


Next week a sell out conference is being held here in the north by the German British Forum. Business people will find out how middle sized and small companies are supported in Germany by the mighty Mittelstand. If George Osborne is serious about Britain becoming economic top dog by 2030, he should try and squeeze into next week’s conference.


Not that it will be all about knocking the British way of doing things. The Germans admire our creativity, customer service and economic growth. However our productivity, lack of skills, short term shareholder focused approach to investment and lack of bank support hold back our SMEs.


So what is this mighty Mittelstand? It describes a middle sized company but has also come to stand for a particular German way of doing business which might commend itself to many northern businesses if we could get the economic framework right to support it.

95% of Mittelstand companies are family owned and 85% owner managed. They are customer, employee and community focused whereas many of our companies are obsessed with the short term need to reward the shareholder.


How is it possible not to worship at the alter of the shareholder? After all in this country it is they who are investing their cash. The German system is rooted in the regions or lander, the highly successful system of sub national government that we created for the Germans after 1945 but seem incapable of having here.


Mittelstand companies finance themselves from retained profits with bank debt and equity funding making up smaller components of the mix. Crucially they are supported by a network of three thousand independent banks. The UK has a dozen business banks. These banks have managers who know the local businesses.


There is a close relationship between business and education ranging from school visits at an early age and a well thought out apprenticeship scheme. 67% of German youngsters go into apprenticeships and there is no snobbery about vocational training with 50% training in trade, crafts and technology and 50% in administration and service.


This system of locally based finance has led to major export success particularly for the so called “hidden champions”, middle sized companies exporting all over the world and contributing 200bn Euros to the German economy. For instance Brita Water Filters rose from nothing to now having a 7bn Euro turnover. The “hidden champions” are founded on innovation, excellent product standards, and long service senior management.


As we debate how the northern powerhouse might look in terms of organisation and democratic structures, it would be good to build in some “mittlestand” thinking. Perhaps our Local Enterprise Partnerships could be part of the banking structure for our SMEs or possibly a Bank of the North with local managers in our towns and cities bringing their local knowledge to investment decisions.


Follow me @JimHancockUK


A major national bank is closing its branch in my village. No doubt they will say there wasn’t enough business. Perhaps that’s because a couple of years ago it decided to close my branch on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Traders who need to deposit cash every day took their business away and the downward spiral was achieved.


The people responsible for this decision have probably never heard of my village. On a wider scale, what do the big national banks know of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the north asking for loans? It’s unlikely they have the knowledge about the regional economy to make good judgments. The huge central and international banks are not fit for the purpose of helping our SMEs. Net lending by banks participating in the government’s Funding for Lending Scheme, fell by £2.4bn in the last quarter of 2012.


So in this week when the Chancellor has grabbed the headlines with his Budget, let’s give a cheer to Ed Miliband’s proposal for regional banks. Labour would give their backing to regional banks in Yorkshire and the North West. The model would be based on the German system where local banks performed far better in the recession than the country’s large banks. The Sparkassen (regional banks) ran up less debt and avoided ruinous high risk investment. As a result, while lending by big German banks fell by 10% between 2006 and 2011, the Sparkassen increased lending by 17%.


The purpose of this policy proposal is to rebalance the British economy and the concept of basing it on a regional footprint is a sound one. Labour has yet to be persuaded to restore regional development agencies or a council of the North but at least this provides financial backing over a larger footprint than the Local Enterprise Partnerships that many feel cover areas that are too small to be effective.


The Hannah Mitchell Society which is campaigning for Northern Regional government welcomed Mr Miliband’s move calling it creative and radical.



Both cities used their time well at MIPIM. The international property market held in Cannes is an important gathering for local councils whatever the Taxpayers Alliance might say.


Leeds told delegates about the increased co-operation with Bradford and Wakefield, learning some of the lessons of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The city region is reported to be worth £54bn.


Despite shrinking workforces and cuts in budgets, councils like Leeds are often the largest landowner, biggest capital spender and the highways and planning authority. MIPIM was told about the Trinity Leeds shopping development opening this year and work getting underway in June on the Sovereign Street office block. Bruce Springsteen is to be the first major band to play the Leeds Arena in July. Considering what the MEN Arena did for Manchester, and the ACC Arena being acknowledged as one of the major legacy benefits of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture; this should be a major boost for the West Yorkshire economy.


Meanwhile there was much interest at MIPIM about Manchester’s acquisition of Stansted Airport. The conference was told of ambitions to get passenger flow through the twenty million mark. Manchester Airport is approaching that now and its all still owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester.