SCOTLAND AND THE NORTH.
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.
JUERGEN SHOWS THE WAY.
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.