We need to talk about London
There is currently a move towards fiscal independence and partial devolution that could threaten the functioning of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state as we know it. No, not those troublesome Scots again, but a growing resentment in London that the capital is indeed another country, a thriving city state with its own talismanic government, structural needs, a tax base and different policy agenda.
OK, hold that thought for a moment. At our Downtown conference in July, Northern Revolution, we will be debating the issue of London with an illustrious panel. We will be examining “the London effect” and how it may direct the regional policy revolution we need to unlock the potential of the North.
Sometimes we can run away with ourselves and misunderstand the nature of the challenges the regional cities face. Helpfully, the view of the Core Cities group, of which Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are a part, is this: “We all need London to continue to succeed, but it is unhelpful and incorrect to see growth elsewhere in the country simply as displacement from the South East. This severely limiting concept stymies the national ability to recover and grow.”
This isn’t just chatter, it was produced as evidence to a commission unleashed by London Mayor Boris Johnson after his re-election last year which has just made a bold case for London to control more of its own taxes than central government. You can link to the full report Raising the Capital, The Report of the London Finance Commission here.
To cut to the chase, here’s the conclusion: “A more devolved system implies both a need to remove government borrowing limits on London government and need to devolve revenue streams in the form of taxation to London government.”
The call for more devolution from London has to be seen as an opportunity for all our cities to develop the right models for new times. At our excellent Leader’s Lunch earlier this month, Sir Richard Leese came as close as he ever has to supporting the idea for a powerful metropolitan mayor for the Greater Manchester city region. However, he made the point that the London mayoral model would be as inadequate for Manchester as the pale small city model that Liverpool and Bristol have adopted.
Indeed, the very smart city deal that Manchester secured is viewed quite enviously by the London commission, who believe using the proceeds of growth in our city region is a good model.
Where I think this is a case of London having its cake and eating it, is how the national structures of the country have inevitably caused the growth of our capital. It is the financial, political, cultural, media and an international transport hub. All our transport runs into London, it is the mother ship, the death star, into which all roads and railways lead. There is no policy plank on which any serious attempt to grow other cities is being pursued with any real vigour. That’s where there is a need for a confident, bold and progressive policy revolution.
I had a peek over the paywall into David Aaronovitch’s excellent column in the Times this week, where he pretty much nailed the politics of today. He said an emerging fault line in British public life was emerging over issues like gay marriage, Europe and ‘political correctness gone mad’. In the shires, the Daily Mail and the narrow UKIP agenda matters, in the cities, it does not.
And the conclusion: “So we may need to secede from the hinterland. And the same is true of our other great cities and university towns which, together, could make an outward-looking, open-minded polity.”
There is a risk that we descend into chippiness, pretty much like the Scots have, where actually our Northern cities find common cause with each other and with London, over many important issues. These include business growth, a flexible approach to core technology skills and an immigration policy that recognizes what growing technology companies need from international labour markets. All important for a strong London indeed, but equally for the strong cities of the North too.
Manchester’s Going Dutch
Plans to bring a Northern European urban experience to Northern England are part of an ambitious plan to make Manchester the cycling capital of the country.
If you haven’t signed it yet, then please support Vélocity 2025, Greater Manchester’s bid for funding to radically improve the cycle ways of the city.
I must admit to being a recent convert to the joys of two wheeled transport. I bought a smart new folding bike last year. I will confess that for a big chunk of the winter it remained folded in the back of my car.
Now the weather is better, so my bike is out again, and it is a joy to be alive.
When you start cycling, you do see the world very differently. It is also true that many cyclists maintain a lofty moral high ground, while other road users resent many of their flexible adherence to rules and codes. However, on balance, until I see hospital wards full of angry white van men and injured bus drivers mown down by lycra clad couriers, I know where my sympathies lie.
However, these clashes brought me to a swift conclusion that barely used cycle lanes were a waste of time. The better option is proper cycle only lanes.
Manchester seems to have embraced this in the grand plan too with some really progressive and radical thinking around the planning of new cycleways in and around the whole of the city region.
The most dramatic change proposed is closing a half mile stretch of Oxford Road around the University to cars. I’m sure there are people who will rant and rave about that, but it is such a positive step.
So, the bones of the bid are for £20 million of national investment, to be spent over two years, to make cycling safer and easier. If successful this will be the first phase of the ambitious Vélocity 2025 strategy which will see cycling in Greater Manchester transformed over the next 12 years.
It comes as part of the government’s Cycle City Ambition Grant (CCAG), which offers financial support for ambitious long-term plans for cycling in British cities and city regions.
Greater Manchester wants to kick-start a generational shift with a programme that has the potential to make cycling a part of everyday life and increase, by 2025, the number of people cycling by 300%.
If CCAG funds are awarded, they would unlock cycling investment for Vélocity 2025 worth £150 to £200 million from a range of public and private partners.
Check the Vélocity 2025 document out and hopefully it will convince you to add your support.
The impossible job of following a legend like Sir Alex Ferguson
How do you follow the greatest? Planning the successor in any business is a massive task. Thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson.
OK, so everyone is praising Sir Alex Ferguson this week, and why not? What he has achieved has been staggering. The picture above was taken at Gulliver’s on Oldham Street in 1986 shortly after he’d joined Manchester United. He accepted an invitation to come along with his number two Archie Knox and talk to a Football Supporters Association public meeting - we attracted about 100 people. It shows how much football has changed in all that time.
I’m not going to simply add the same platitudes, but instead add some key points from other Downtowners.
As Mike Emmerich said on the New Economy news this week: “When Sir Alex took over at the football club in 1986 Manchester was in many senses in the doldrums: the city had lost 160,000 manufacturing jobs in six years – the equivalent of 73 job losses per day - and more than 180,000 people were claiming unemployment benefit, double the current level. Today, in stark contrast, Manchester is once again a place of global success, both in sporting terms but far beyond that. As an industry, football is now worth £300 million to the local economy and brings the equivalent benefit of hosting the Olympics every four years. Looking more widely, recent research published by the London School of Economics shows that Manchester, uniquely amongst the UK’s regional cities, has the capacity to support career progression at a rate comparable to that of the South East.”
The share price has only wobbled a bit. I suspect the appointment of David Moyes will be welcomed by the shareholders and funders for his ability to run on a budget as he has done at Everton.
But maybe we should have seen the retirement coming.
Sir Alex also did an interview for North West Business Insider when I was editor in 2009. In that piece he discussed retirement, saying it may come in three or four years, well, it’s been almost four now. Here’s what he told Jim Pendrill, who did the piece:
“Since I said I was going to retire and changed my mind I think people think I will be here forever,” he says. “Some days I wonder myself. It could be three or four years, other mornings you wake up and think ‘have I done enough’. Then you get to the training ground, see the lads and you know how much you love it.”
Andrew Adonis in Manchester - very impessed
Lord Andrew Adonis is one of life’s true gents. For a start he’s quite insistent you call him Andrew. A charming, energetic and really positive force of ideas and curiosity. But he’s also something of an enigma in politics. He is a switcher, an avowed social democrat, he has changed his party allegiance rather than his values, just as the parties have pivoted on changing political poles. An early member of the SDP, a former LibDem councillor who later found a home in Tony Blair’s New Labour, he was also wooed by the ConDem coalition as a potential minister following the election of 2010.
He also comments freely on how he looks - wiry and wispy - and not at all like an Adonis - “Apart from my own name, the Transpennine Express is the greatest misnomer of all time..” is a typical self-deprecating comment. Yet I find him massively persuasive and charismatic. When he spoke at the Chamber dinner in 2010 he went down better than the comedian - and that was Michael McIntyre!
Tony Blair made him a peer which meant he has never had to stand for and hold a seat in the House of Commons. Yet the evidence of last Friday was that he would have made a terrific constituency MP. He seems genuinely interested in people and how to find solutions to their problems and challenges, but then he has the flexibility to focus on where he really can make a difference - leadership, educational entrepreneurship and transport initiatives.
So Downtown was thrilled last week to host Andrew Adonis on a day of looking around the North West. His first call was under my care at a breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel.
His three big specialisms are transport, education and regional economic development. Inevitably, these are linked.
I asked him about the work he’s doing in the North East - LEPs working together, a skills revolution, a Combined Authority, an “Oyster” style travel card that works across trains and buses. This was informed massively by the Greater Manchester model.
I asked him as well about the potential for London’s ever powerful Mayor and the clout it gives our capital - “when I was Transport Secretary and I got a call from the Mayor of London I took that call”. He agreed that cities like Manchester need them too - “Manchester should have a mayor. In time this will happen”, though admitted it is a tough argument to make amongst all three parties.
He was also on sparkling form in talking about the urgent need to develop apprenticeships and reduce the number of kids who aren’t in education, employment or training.
We then arranged for him to visit UK Fast, the award winning data hosting business led by Laurence Jones.
Lord Adonis was just the latest in a series of high profile, influential and thought leading figures to work with us on crafting our Northern revolution agenda. We want to stimulate a fresh approach to business engagement, a higher priority to regional needs and a recognition that our great cities and counties and communities are not the problem to the economic malaise of this country, but are part of the solution.
More than ever, business needs a revolution in banking. Thoughts on the Co-op, Lloyds, FLS and JLS.
I was lined up to go on BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday to talk about the Bank of England’s announcement that it was extending the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS). The newsroom was all a flurry when two other events jumped up the agenda – the break-up of JLS and the collapse of the Co-operative Bank’s deal to buy 632 Lloyd’s Bank branches.
When business reporter Andy Verity leapt from his chair, breaking the peaceful hum of the Five Live newsroom at that early hour, I knew something big was going down. For preparation I was checking through the Bank of England press release and had just read Luke Johnson’s excellent column in the Financial Times where he called for more competition in the sector.
My initial thought was that this is a disaster. It looks like a real kick in the balls for Peter Marks, outgoing CEO of the Co-operative Group, who was offloading assets and clearing the decks to integrate a large business into the bank in order for it to become a real player. He’d been positively crowing about it and had been given the highest level endorsements possible from George Osborne.
Robert Peston claimed the withdrawl from this deal was an indication of the Co-op’s possible exit from banking altogether, a remarkable and dramatic reversal if proved true. I’m not so sure.
Clearly then, it’s also a bit of a blow to any of the government’s ambitions (and of the Labour Party) to encourage more competition in the banking sector.
Pretty quickly, Lloyds announced that the branches would be floated as the Trustee Savings Bank (TSB). A swiftness of foot that rather exposes the tardiness displayed by Royal Bank of Scotland when its deal to sell branches and customers to Santander fell apart. For all his skill in shrinking RBS, Stephen Hester clearly had no Plan B up his sleeve.
Though if a bank doesn’t want the branches and £25bn of deposits, why should anyone buy shares in TSB? That’s one to ponder.
All of this starts to scream for urgent action for a properly funded bank that can lend to smaller and medium sized businesses. One too that is closer to the heart of the regional economy and one less concerned with City issues. One that will be part of a Northern Revolution of policy, planning and economic management.
My own view for what it’s worth is that the lack of lending at the moment is as much about demand as it is about supply. Confidence is the biggest barrier to any business taking out a loan.
But there are a few other interesting trends in the emerging economy. For a start there are signs of growth from the fast growing “gazelle” companies who have grown in the last year, the FT, quoting Experian data, said there has been a ten per cent increase in medium sized businesses to 4,353. These are the companies targeted by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme and by GrowthAccelerator. These businesses get good advice and are well served by banks. Funding for Lending has reduced the cost of money for these businesses, it has not made money available to more companies.
The issue is new start-ups and businesses who are constricted in what they can do. They may have the idea and the ambition, but don’t know where to turn. The UK small business market deserves a banking service that can be their friend.
Another process that could unlock dormant capital in the economy is the large numbers of companies who were missold complex interest rate swap products as a condition of a loan. These are anchors on growth and profitability and need sorting out.
But here’s an alternative thought. The Co-operative backing out now is a blessing. The previous evening I’d attended a very useful event at the new group HQ in NOMA where Ruairidh Jackson talked passionately about the best strategy for members, about creating great places in Manchester city centre that contributed to the life of the city. The board has a responsibility to members, that the Co-op is different. It was Chatham House rules, so I can’t be too specific, but maybe what we have just witnessed is an act of great bravery that could just be the best decision the Co-op have taken in a decade of bold moves.
So, Derek Hatton, what if she’d lost and you’d won?
There will be plenty of people on the left drifting into a fantasy world of what life would have been like with no Margaret Thatcher, now that there is no longer a real living Margaret Thatcher to despise, just a grave to dance on.
If you want to properly assess the legacy and the impact of the so-called Iron Lady then start with the words she chose to use when she’d won the election of 1979. Twisting the beautiful words of St Francis of Assisi she said: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
The reaction to her death – more disharmony, no consensus over what the truth is, plenty of doubt, it rather points to a failure on all fronts. And for many communities, the only hope came from successive governments.
As the brilliant sociologist Stuart Hall said, “Thatcherism” was defined by what it was for and what it was against: “the virtues of the market, competition, elitism, individual initiative, the iniquities of state intervention and bureaucracy… and against trade union militancy, national aspirations, permissiveness, women’s liberation.”
It’s all very Manichean* – if you know what that means fine, if you don’t, then that’s fine too, but you probably need to read more.
But that’s because you have to separate what she said and what the government did. In fact, a lot of what she said was errant nonsense, ill thought through and arrogant. Such as that breathtaking baloney about there being no such thing as society, just collections of individuals and families.
But let’s for a moment concentrate on her quest for the truth.
For me the biggest failure of Thatcher and Thatcherism is that it was never really true to its revolutionary rhetoric. There was never any attempt to create new models of co-operative business, genuine shareholder democracy, or to forge a revolution in home ownership beyond selling off council houses. It remains a challenge now.
I don’t come at this from the left or the right, but from the North. I have always suffered from an excess of civic pride.
There are proud intellectual traditions in the north. Like mutuality, the co-operative movement and free trade liberalism. Instead the anti-Thatcher and pro-Thatcher camps have painted us all into a nasty form of rampant capitalism pitted against a dismal protectionist socialism.
There is a myth too that the North stood strong in 1984, but was defeated, that the brave miners led the struggle against her mighty state armoury; that they were the vanguard of the enemy within, who took her on. No they weren’t, they were pretty much on their own. I was active on the left in the 80s. I supported the miners, marched for Derek Hatton and his cronies in Liverpool, peacefully picketed Padiham power station, danced at Red Wedge gigs and bought Billy Bragg records (the revolution is just a t-shirt away, comrade).
It was a debate that was hopelessly lost. The miners were defeated, not just because they weren’t united, but were led by a tyrant to an unpopular strike that divided communities with rhetoric and tribalism. As a supporter, you rattled collection tins in working class areas and were as unpopular as a Tory. People didn’t want to know. The coal industry was a pawn in a politically motivated class struggle – by both sides.
As for her battle with the local authorities, Manchester City Council only began to be in a position to make the city a better place when they accepted the new rules and engaged. Former leader Graham Stringer deserves a lot of credit for this.
Society had changed, Thatcher provided a mood music for a generation of entrepreneurs, 11 per cent of the workforce in 1989 were self employed, made up of people like my dad, who had his own milk round. Yet that was against a backdrop of high interest rates and no real attempt to remove red tape. Instead, just the unchallenged march of the banks and their concentration of power.
I dispute the view that this created a culture of selfishness that made the world a harsher place, but something clearly snapped.
Only by attempting to govern from the centre, by taking the country with you could any politician ever hope to govern again. And a new language of business engagement has taken root.
Neil Kinnock partly saw this, but Tony Blair grasped it fully, and so too we now see the leaders of every political party today occupying familiar territory. Thatcher even said that her greatest success was New Labour. And I have always held that David Cameron is truly Blair’s heir. It all rather drives home the point that no other politician could ever expect to win one election, let alone three, by declaring war on an ‘enemy within’.
And let’s remember that. The left has been properly marginalised and defeated. The supremacy of post-Thatcherite politics for the last 23 years has been the killing of the idea that there will ever be another Thatcher of the right, or the left. For all of the talk of the triumph of neo-liberalism, most western countries have a state that produces over 40 per cent of GDP.
Finally, I can’t let the week pass without a nod in the direction of the grave dancers. I can’t personally celebrate the death of anyone. As a good mate of mine, Simon Sinclair, said this week in response to an invitation to a party to mark her death: “I’d be very sad and think less of you if you actually celebrated the death of another human being. I don’t remember anyone celebrating the death of even Fred West or Osama Bin Laden. And nobody danced for the death of Stalin or Mao Zedong. So why anyone I respect might do a childish jig over the death of someone who took an immense popular mandate to fight a huge national decline in the way she understood the country would want to, and repeatedly elected her to do, makes me feel a little diminished as a member of the human race.”
*Manichean – the belief that everything can be reduced to a fight between good and evil.
Can a private members club work in Manchester?
Private members clubs have a unique place in the fabric of certain urban movements. Places where elites gather, debate, host and are never in fear of meeting the members of the public that wouldn’t be admitted as members.
In the old world they were exclusive gentlemen’s watering holes, a place in town; crusty, male and formal. There are still about 25 like that in the capital.
Then came London’s Groucho Club named after everyone’s favourite Marx brother, who said he’d never want to join a club that would admit him. It was soon followed by Soho House, another modern and gleaming hub for cool creative types in music, advertising, film and TV.
Word on the street in London is that the cool places have become too dominated by the ‘suits’ while the old style gentlemen’s emporia have relaxed.
But what then for Manchester? I ask this because after a few false starts it seems that three or four may come at once. They used to say that about buses, but then if you are the sort of person interested in a private club, you probably don’t even know what a bus is.
I must admit I’ve always been skeptical about the concept working here. The Circle Club created something of a buzz, but I don’t think it came close to being Manchester’s Groucho or Soho House. It’s not for me to judge whether it was any good or not, but the reviews on TripAdvisor aren’t too favourable. I recall particularly bawdy after-show parties following the Dealmakers Awards in 2003 and 2004.
The St James’ Club has had numerous attempts to reach out and be younger and more modern, to attract a clientele beyond the King Street crowd of bankers, brokers and surveyors. I was amazed when I looked round nine years ago to discover it doesn’t open in the evenings. Surely one of the essential characteristics of a club is that it’s somewhere to go after hours?
Of the new crop, I was bowled over by the facilities and the meeting areas at The Landing at MediaCityUK. It was a really great experience and you have to hope that it’s made some of the talent at the BBC feel a little more at home since they moved to the North. I think I was impressed because it is a place with a great character, a quality otherwise lacking around the Quays.
But if you were to back anyone in Manchester city centre to create that kind of modern club ambience, then it would be Tim Bacon of Living Ventures. What he doesn’t know about creating a comfortable restaurant experience isn’t worth knowing. His planned Manchester House in Spinningfields will deploy all his research and gut feel, next to an eclectic group of investors, to create something worth checking out.
The other entrepreneur with similar ambitions, so I hear, is ex-footballer Gary Neville. His purchase of the old Stock Exchange building was completed last month and it has been rumoured he has plans for a club. Like most non-United fans my admiration for him has come since his playing days ended. He’s proved to be a decent coach, a first rate TV pundit and someone with a fair amount of bravery in his business ambitions.
But the one thing to get right in Manchester is security. The history of night life in the city is littered with the bodies of people battered by scuttlers, scallies and gangsters. Many a good scene has been ruined by violence and intimidation.
Finally, here’s a confession: back in the 1990s I was offered a dirt cheap deal to become a member of a club in London. It was a perk of being the editor of magazine in the film and TV world, as I was at the time. I passed on the opportunity on the basis that London already had the Groucho Club which catered for the creative community and another one had no chance of catching on. It was the Soho House. What do I know, eh?
There’s a question I keep being asked that I just don’t know the answer to.
The City of Manchester Business Awards was a great event. It was a real marker in the ground for all the team at Downtown. As the event host I shared some personal reflections. If you don’t mind I’ll share them here.
There is a question I keep being asked that I just don’t know the answer to.
I keep being asked if I’m enjoying my time as Chairman of Downtown. That’s easy to answer, because I am. We have achieved a great deal and there is still more to do. I love a new challenge.
I get asked whether I miss being at Insider, a business I was part of for the best part of 12 years. Well, no I don’t, but I wish all my friends there well. And good luck to all the people who have taken over the roles I did.
People ask me how I enjoy the different businesses I am now involved in – my book imprint, my events business, Liberty Pensions and GrowthAccelerator – I love it all. And they all provide me with new challenges each and every day. And I have loads of other ideas for new events and new business initiatives. Life is good.
Occasionally I get asked what happened to Roger Cashman, the former columnist in Insider who mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Puerto Banus in January last year. It is a riddle, that’s for sure. But I am confident he will return and urge his supporters to continue to pray for his return.
No, the one question I seem to be asked frequently is this: What on earth is going on at Blackburn Rovers?
I have no idea and it breaks my heart.