On Thursday 8th January over 200 Chamber members gathered at the old Granada Studio building in Manchester for what was a unique opportunity to hear direct from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about the government’s plans for future economic growth in the North West.
For keen followers of policy none of the announcements were new and much of the narrative centred around the Northern Powerhouse proposals however what was different was the fact that they have now been packaged under the banner of “The Long Term Economic Plan for the North West” with 6 pledges.
The first was around creating 100,000 new North West jobs in the next parliament; the second was to deliver the largest transport investment ever in the North West – approximately £4.5 bn; next a statement to make the North West a global science centre; forth was to raise the quality of life in the region; fifth was to deliver on giving more power to the region’s cities and finally to raise the standard of living throughout the region so that residents earn more money.
The Prime Minister outlined the pledge and then the Chancellor delivered the detail.
All excellent stuff and nothing you could not disagree with. The caveats , as ever, are how this will be delivered, over what timescale and from our members perspective what is their role in making this happen?
Some of these issues came out in the Q&A session that followed with particular focus on SME involvement with this – something that the Chamber’s skills service has tackled well the last 2 years with 900 new apprentices in work.
When questioned on the region’s engineering and manufacturing business and what role this can still play the interesting answer outlined that when the government says rebalancing the economy – it isn’t just geographic ie London Vs everywhere else but the sectoral differences also need tackling. Something pleasing to her but which has proven a huge stumbling block in the past.
The event ended after an hour and for the few members that hung on till the end both the PM and Chancellor came back into the room to do some personal meets (and quite a few selfies!).
So all in all a great chance for a large number of Chamber members to get to listen meet and in some cases quiz the two most senior politicians in the UK.
Obviously the starting gun has been fired ahead of May and we will keep tabs on all the major issues through our Campaign for Business and this no doubt will be the first of many similar events over the coming few months.
So here we are, 2015 at last and just 4 months to the General Election.
We are about equidistant from the launch of our Campaign for Business as to Election day itself and things, I think it’s safe to say, are about to get really interesting and possibly a little fractious.
Looking back to our initial campaign themes and set against some dramatic policy announcements at the end of 2014, it would be easy to say that there’s been some positive steps taken already.
Take the whole Northern Powerhouse/Devolution issue.
Whilst no-one would argue against getting more local powers and control away from Whitehall – a core “ask” from business that sits at the heart of our Campaign – there are untold issues still to be decided on and agreed, especially as to what role business have in this process. It could be argued that without real local taxation – including locally controlled business rates – any form of decentralized decision making is and always will be unfulfilled potential. That would be a criminal waste and a huge chance gone begging. There are plenty other similar issues.
So as we enter the run-in to May its important that we step up and work doubly hard in making sure that what is already on the table gets delivered effectively as well as making sure that whichever party, or more likely parties, form the next government they understand and react to what businesses have made clear they want.
Over the next few months we will continue to focus on our campaign themes at a national level as well as keep a watching eye on local issues that will impact on us here in Greater Manchester irrespective of who is sat in Number 10.
We will increase our contact with you around specific campaigns – skills later this month, trade next month and more on devolution in March. Starting this month we’ll be digging deep into what a mayor will mean for Greater Manchester, how it will work as well as what role the business community will and should have in deciding the city region’s future. And as we get nearer to May we’ll be increasing our contact with political leaders allowing you direct access to the people that may make a difference to you come May and beyond.
Stick with us as we make the points that need making, say the things that need saying and ensuring your interests and views are represented and taken care of. But most of all get involved - we cant do any of the above without you.