At the latest DIB ‘Leaders Lunch’ in Lancashire, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison, addressed an audience of business and academic leaders, facilitating a fascinating conversation on the government’s devolution agenda, and the impact it is having on the county.
In his latest budget, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced ‘deeper devo’ deals for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, which will provide both regions with additional responsibilities and financial resources.
The lunchtime discussion, at an event which took place at the outstanding Dunkenhalgh Hotel & Spa, focussed on the implications for Lancashire, as its politicians continue to struggle to agree a reformed local government structure which would enable the county to have a greater say over issues such as education, skills & training, transport, and economic development.
Downtown group chair and chief executive Frank McKenna commented:
“I was in Cannes in March for the property festival that is MIPIM. It coincided with the chancellor’s budget statement, and following Jeremy Hunt’s remarks, there was much celebration on the business stands that had been erected in the South of France, from local government officials and their regional mayors.
“Additional powers – and resources – have been awarded to those areas with mayors. And the big game changer for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands is that they will be able to retain 20% of their business rates in future and utilise that money to borrow against. That is huge, and will undoubtedly be something that Liverpool, Leeds, and other devolved governments will benefit from in the future too.
“Enterprise Zones, Innovation Zones, and more control of skills, education, and training were other devo-developments that have been warmly received by academic institutions and business leaders alike. How many years have we been arguing for a more place-based, bespoke approach to the challenges of skills shortages in our regions?
“Sadly, Lancashire was missing from MIPIM and the showcase that allows cities to market and promote opportunities to the international investment community and rub shoulders with some of the great and the good from Whitehall. Even sadder, the failure of our local politicians to agree a way forward in terms of its local government arrangements means that the county will get none of the powers, responsibilities, or cash that Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds will be receiving.
“It’s time for Lancashire business leaders to demand a change in direction and attitude for our place. If the local councillors won’t initiate progress, maybe it’s time for central government intervention?”