Now we see more clearly what we are going to have to contend with as we try and bring power to the North.


We knew about Boris land in the South East and London with its power to drain the brightest talent southwards and its vastly disproportionate transport spending.


Now we see the full dimension of the challenge north of the border. The Scottish Government will retain all the income tax raised in Scotland, a share of VAT and power over areas of welfare. Air Passenger Duty will be a devolved power and expect it to be cut. APD is an issue that Manchester and Leeds airports have been campaigning on for years without success. Now they face a competitive disadvantage which could be significant in the border region, particularly Newcastle.


The city regionalists have written to The Times along the lines of what’s right for Scotland is right for the cities. Quite right but even our northern cities are not fit for purpose in the new economic landscape. We need to build on the Rail North and One North concepts, adding functions that apply across the North and make it a democratically elected body so that ordinary people have a say.


Meanwhile, as I write, we await the Combined Authority deals for Leeds and Sheffield promised by Nick Clegg before the Autumn Statement. On Merseyside the problems continue. Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral and the City Region has now stated that the concept of an elected mayor should be put to a referendum. That is unlikely to please Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson.




Business leaders usually recoil when it is suggested they become involved in politics. But with an elected mayor for Greater Manchester on the horizon, it is interesting to see some of the non political names coming forward. For instance Scott Fletcher of ANS Group, and lively contributor to Downtown events, has not ruled himself out.


Another man who impressed me this week with his wider skills and vision was Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK. He is also Chairman of the North West Business Leadership Team, an organisation that takes a region wide view on the big issues facing business.


It published its business manifesto this week. It calls for action in the areas of skills, transport, world class science and emphasising our energy resources.


Speaking to MPs at Westminster Maier made a number of key points including the fact that there are too many skills initiatives for business to cope with. He said devolution had to operate within a national framework to preserve coherence (that is why a constitutional convention is essential). He also showed how far behind we are in only now arguing for HS3. Essen, Dortmund and Cologne were linked 25 years ago. He also hoped the autumn statement might bring economic catapults in precision medicine and energy to the North West.


The North needs leaders like Juergen Maier.




Next week’s statement by the Chancellor will be important for northern business. With the election looming we can expect further measures in connection with the “northern powerhouse” as George Osborne seeks to confirm his position as a friend of the north.


But we mustn’t be distracted from some hard underlying truths. There are signs that the fragile recovery is stalling, the government has missed its deficit reduction targets by a wide margin and all these city region councils that are going to get devolved powers are facing remorseless cuts in their budgets.




As we’ve seen in the local elections, UKIP don’t have to win masses of seats to have a big effect on British politics.


Tory backbenchers are terrified of them and now want the European in/out referendum before the next election. They want legislation to trigger the vote in next week’s Queen’s Speech. Mr Cameron had tried to appease the Euro sceptics with a promise to put a renegotiated terms package to the people by 2017.


But there is no appeasing these anti EU fanatics, they will take the concessions and move on to the next demand.


How will the nation vote when actually faced with the consequences of coming out?


This week Downtown Liverpool held a debate and vote on this very subject. While it would be absurd to suggest the result is scientifically representative, nevertheless I think 17 for coming out of the EU, 21 against with a substantial 14 saying they don’t know feels as if it might be where public opinion is at the moment. In other words there is substantial support for withdrawal and a large number of votes to play for amongst people who choose not to obsess about Europe every day.


It was a lively debate, to be repeated in Manchester soon. I led off trying to cram too much into my allocated 5 minutes. I expressed my fear that Ed Miliband will be pressurised into supporting an in/out referendum, that the renegotiation will be unsuccessful, that nevertheless the three main parties will urge a vote to stay in and the British people will be swayed by the Murdoch press into voting to come out. I then foresaw a very difficult process of withdrawal with no guarantee that we could negotiate the same trade arrangements from outside the EU.


Dougal Paver, head of PaverSmith Communications Agency disagreed saying that it would not be in the EU’s interest to put tariffs on British goods. He also said that most of our trade was with the rest of the world now. He loved visiting Europe but didn’t want to be shackled by EU regulations on small businesses.


Kevin Doran is hoping to be elected as a Labour Euro MP next year and firmly wants to stay in the EU. He said David Cameron’s promise of a referendum had created uncertainty among long term potential investors in Britain. He also said it was unclear which powers Mr Cameron wanted to claw back from Europe.


The final speaker was Scott Fletcher, MD of ANS Group, who said the British people agreed to a European trade deal not the all singing, all dancing EU that we have got now. He said the way the EU was governed bore similarities to the old Soviet Union in terms of its unaccountability.


The vote was more or less a three way split and if that is where the UK is at the moment, pro Europeans are going to have their work cut out to prevent a disastrous no vote in 2017 whoever is in power.