NISSAN GREAT, BUT WHERE’S THE REST?

Jim praises the Nissan investment which is a huge boost for the North, but he took part in a Downtown seminar this week where there was a strong sense of unease about the Northern Powerhouse in general.He also comments on the Prime Minister's handling of the Hancock Affair.

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The billion pounds Nissan investment in the North East is great news, and one in the eye for us Remainers who thought the plant might shut after Brexit.

It gives momentum to the government still getting credit for the vaccination programme and economic recovery. Those two successes seem to outweigh concern about the pandemic’s effect on school attendance and lifting Covid restrictions.

Will the jab programme and Nissan’s investment even turn Batley Tory? You will know the answer probably when you read this.

It is a remarkable state of affairs that Boris Johnson can write to Matt Hancock saying, “your contribution to public service is far from over”, and still have the affection of large sections of the British people.

When the former Health Secretary was exposed for flagrantly breaching guidelines that people with dying or lonely relatives had followed, Downing Street (i.e., the PM) said the matter was closed. Johnson, with his rakish history was in no position to hand out moral reprimands to Matt Hancock but his desire not to bend to the media, blinded him to the absurd possibility of Hancock continuing to lecture us on the need to keep our distance.

Then when Hancock resigned, Johnson pretended the 36-hour delay was all part of a plan to give the ex-Health Secretary some space in a pandemic. Lie after lie. The rules of public conduct trashed time after time. Will there be a day of reckoning? Will the scales fall from the eyes of Red Wall voters?

Possibly if the proceedings of a joint meeting between Downtown and the Cities Restart organisation this week are anything to go by.

A great panel of business leaders and senior local council officials from the North and Midlands were discussing the pathway to recovery. There was general agreement that the steam had gone out of the Northern Powerhouse, the government still wasn’t acting on the skills crisis and there were big problems getting city centres going again. To the question “Is the government focused on recovery, they voted no 90% to 10% yes.

Steve Rotheram was the main guest. The Liverpool City Region mayor laid out an impressive green investment programme which includes the Mersey Tidal Scheme. That project needs skilled workers, and training them requires joined up thinking between central and local government. It wasn’t there said Steve.

There was general agreement that we have got delegation not devolution in the north. Pots of money handed down, not real power across broad spending programmes. Also, we have seen the return of divisive bidding for funds.

Two other key points arose at the meeting. One was labour shortages. A small business spokesperson said some had not been able to reopen because of it. The other is the slow recovery of city centres linked to the issue of working from home. A representative of a leading telecoms company told us he foresaw big problems with workers who had become used to domestic comforts and gym appointments. He claimed, and I agree, that there will be major issues for productivity and accountability if most workers get the idea that they can work form home for most of the week when the pandemic is over.

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