Bruce Katz is a brilliant American thinker on the future of metro cities. It was a privilege to hear him speak this month in Manchester Town Hall alongside Richard Leese, the architect of our own metro city in Greater Manchester.


Both men see the driver for the American and UK economies being in metro cities in the years to come. That certainly chimes with current government policy here where regional structures have been destroyed in favour of cities and local enterprise partnerships.


I have always thought the abolition of Yorkshire Forward and the North West Development Agency was a mistake and one of the reasons for that is that the policy of concentrating on boosting our cities leaves places like Keighley, Halifax, Burnley, and Skelmersdale out in the cold.


Urbanists will tell you that prosperity will eventually radiate out as the economy improves. I doubt it. The truth is more likely to align with the views of Brian Robson. He’s a distinguished professor and has written widely on urban policy. After hearing our American lecturer he told me bluntly that the cities were the future and people from the outlying Lancashire and Yorkshire towns would just have to travel into the metropolises of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool to get work.


I don’t think Brian, who is a very civilised man is completely serious and our rural and semi rural towns will battle on with their efforts to attract specialised jobs and employers who see price advantages in setting up away from the conurbations. However it will be a battle. I was in Bolton recently and admire its magnificent Town Hall and theatre. But when you’ve said that, you’ve said it all. On this particular Saturday teatime the shops were shuttering up and it was impossible to find a decent restaurant. The danger of the current policy is that everything is gravitating to the big cities and out of town shopping malls, leaving our town centres devastated.


So as the future is the cities for the time being we had better to the analysis of Bruce Katz and Richard Leese. Americans are very alienated from their central government right now. Washington is almost paralysed as the Democrats and Tea Party Republicans fight themselves to a standstill. Katz quoted one senator who said “It comes to something when the biggest threat to the US government is the US Congress!”


According to Katz, into this void come the cities driving growth, education and infrastructure with central government left with social security, defence and regulatory functions. His model is North East Ohio, an area embracing Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Caton. He believes the critical mass of urban areas is essential to turning round communities where traditional industries have gone.


Richard Leese’s equivalent is the Combined Authority (CA) of Greater Manchester, a model soon to be followed on Merseyside and in West Yorkshire. He claimed the CA had given the area scale to embark on projects like Airport City and the Ethiad Campus in east Manchester. All that was needed, claimed Sir Richard, was for the government to allow real devolution.


The power of Katz and Leese arguments can’t be denied but the rest of the North has to be looked after too.




Its that time in the parliamentary cycle when MPs have to make up their minds about whether they want to vacate their seats ahead of the General Election.


Shaun Woodward’s decision to quit as MP for St Helens South and Whiston brings back memories of the controversial way he was “parachuted” into the seat by the New Labour machine in 2001 after defecting from the Tories. A mischievous thought enters my head that we could see St Helens council leader Barry Grunewald going for the selection against Marie Rimmer who lost the leadership to him earlier this year.


Jack Straw, at the age of 67, has decided to stand down so Blackburn will be getting a new MP for only the third time since 1945. The seat would appropriately be represented by a member of the Asian community.


So would Manchester Gorton, but I am told that 83 year old Sir Gerald Kaufman has indicated to wants to stand again. He would be nearly ninety at the end of the next parliament. Perhaps he wants to be Father of the House. The problem is that Michael Meacher (Oldham West) also entered the Commons in 1970.


Tory vacancies will be few and far between in the North West this time, but Lorraine Fulbrook is standing down in South Ribble and in Ribble Valley there is the tricky issue of Nigel Evans. Currently sitting as an Independent pending his trial on sex charges, Evans tells me he is confident of being found not guilty and then standing as Conservative candidate at the next election.





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.


In the week when we are celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Dickens, I’m writing about two cities; not London and Paris but Manchester and Liverpool.

If you want to know the real issues facing business in Manchester city centre ask Pat Karney.

He’s the councillor responsible for the heart of the metropolis and everyone beats a path to his office.

At a major gathering of city centre employers this week, Cllr Karney gave them an insight into the diverse range of problems that came across his desk in just one morning. In addition to the uproar over charging for Sunday parking, one shop keeper came to complain about human excrement outside the Hidden Gem church and representatives of the gay community objected to a club being turned into a budget hotel.

Despite these minor inconveniences, Manchester seems to be surviving the recession very well. Indeed council leader Sir Richard Leese suggested that the city centre could accommodate a thousand new residential units a year for the next decade. There is 96% occupancy of the existing provision. Leese claimed that Manchester employment had returned to pre recession levels.

Leese does not want the city to vote for an elected mayor, he prefers the Combined Authority model that has been in place for nearly a year now. All the local authorities in Greater Manchester are working together to drive an impressive range of projects.

There’s the enterprise zone at Manchester Airport where the infrastructure for a major retail, leisure and warehousing scheme will be in place by next year. In addition there’s MediaCity and the Sharp Project in east Manchester for budding media businesses. So successful has the latter been that Sharp 2 is planned. Nearby Manchester City football club is developing the Etihad Project.

At Manchester University a government backed plan is underway to capitalise on the discovery of graphine (very thin and very strong). Are we going to make some money for once out of a product developed in Britain?

Salford’s soon to be elected mayor will inherit a city still struggling with some big social problems but with a number of infrastructure schemes including the Chapel Street gateway and a plan to open up a riverside route from MediaCity up to Salford University.

Meanwhile Liverpool Council took the formal decision to go for an elected mayor. Liberal Democrat opposition to scrapping the planned referendum was half hearted and the debate did not match some that I have witnessed in the historic council chamber.
Council leader Joe Anderson had the wind in his sails having just signed off the £130m deal with the government that he insists was only possible because the city was going to have an elected mayor.

One felt the politicians already had their eye on who was going to stand. Joe Anderson will clearly be Labour’s candidate. He might face ex leader and Lib Dem peer Mike Storey. The suggestion was certainly not denied by a senior party source. If Storey can’t be lured from the best club in London, then Cllr Richard Kemp might consider standing.

The Liberals will field Cllr Steve Radford who gave his support to the new post on Tuesday night, and there is likely to be a Conservative candidate.

But the campaign will be enlivened by independents. There are two at the moment and they make an unlikely couple. There’s former broadcaster Liam Fogarty who has campaigned for the last 10 years for an elected mayor. A clever man of substance, he cares passionately about his city. It will be fascinating to see how he stands up to the robust style of bruiser Anderson.

Then there’s celebrity hairstylist Herbert Howe who has promised to take no salary and to be independent of all party factions.

Before you dismiss his chances remember that Robocop got elected in Middlesbrough. H’Angus the Monkey won in Hartlepool and an English Democrat became mayor of Doncaster.


Liverpool Council will vote on Tuesday to deny the people a vote on whether they want an elected mayor.

Council leader Joe Anderson justifies this on the grounds that he can beat other cities to a package of powers and cash while they go through time wasting referendums. He had better be right.

The low turn out in Salford’s mayoral referendum last week (albeit with a yes vote) shows that this issue excites politicians and journalists far more than ordinary people.

A referendum could have been held in Liverpool if activists could have got just 5% of the citizenry to support it. They failed.

The document that Liverpool’s Chief Executive is putting before the council next week is instructive. It refers to the “proposed” deal with the government. Nothing is signed off yet. What happens if the deal collapses? Do we revert to a referendum? Chaos!

It concedes that “this package is not directly contingent upon an elected mayor.” It refers to the “inherent uncertainty” in not moving quickly without giving any evidence that the government is set to give fewer powers and cash to the 10 cities which are allowing their voters a say on whether they want this controversial post or not.

Actually I have never been a fan of referenda. The previous Labour government should have created an elected North West Assembly if it truly believed in democratic regional government. Instead it promised a referendum and then withdrew it.

In Liverpool’s case, the city was four months away from a promised referendum on the elected mayor issue and Joe Anderson risks giving the impression that this is a power grab to wrong foot other potential candidates.

He’s done a good job in his two years leading the city and will almost certainly win, but when he told a local paper this week “the electorate will have their chance to say yes or no” on May 3 that is manifest nonsense. The option to reject an elected mayor is not on offer.

Joe Anderson is not the only council leader plunged in controversy over elected mayors. Ahead of the Salford vote in favour, Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, told Granada TV such a result “could be a real obstacle” to the Combined Authority which runs Greater Manchester.

Yet speaking at the launch of Downtown’s Manchester Business Survey last Friday he felt there would not be a problem.

One feels his first reaction may be right particularly if Hazel Blears decides to quit parliament and stand. The Salford MP is used to “rocking the boat”.

At the moment Leese is campaigning for a no vote in May’s referendum in Manchester, although there’s still time for the government to seduce him with a package of goodies.

If Manchester votes no and Hazel looms up on the Combined Authority with a public mandate from Salford as elected mayor, it will have a potentially destabilising effect. Remember the rude things she said about Manchester when the parliamentary boundary commission proposed wiping her city off the map? She reminded us Manchester was a tiny village while Salford was already thriving in medieval times.

Leese must hope that Salford’s low profile council leader John Merry wins. Merry was opposed to an elected mayor but says he will now stand.