So, now we know.
After months of speculation following the Chancellor's Northern Powerhouse speech in June when, after outlining major improvements that the north needs, he dropped the Mayor "bombshell" right at the end and which went largely unnoticed as everyone focussed on his proposals for HS3. I remember sitting there at the time thinking "that's interesting" and wondering what this would end up looking like in Greater Manchester and when the question of an elected mayor for Greater Manchester would crop up again. It seems I didn't have long to wait.
Anyone that has been closely following this, and we certainly have at the Chamber, will know there have been all manner of discussions, debates and models put forward as to what this could look like . It's safe to say the one put forward in the deal made today certainly wasn't one of them. And whilst many people "Think Boris" when city mayors are on the agenda this is definitely not a carbon copy of the London model. Once again Manchester has developed its own model for taking things forward. We have to make sure though that it works for everyone and that includes business who will have a key role to play in this starting from now.
For too long many businesses have been frustrated with decisions that impacted on them either being made remotely in Whitehall or locally, but with little if any input that reflected their views. Through work that the Chamber has pioneered with elements of the local skills budget, we have shown that by having the ability to respond to local conditions quickly and with minimal fuss real progress can be made.
Following the Scottish referendum result and the debate started in its aftermath businesses have been very engaged with looking at what future form of local governance would work best in Greater Manchester. This is an issue that sits at the heart of the Chamber’s Campaign for Business which states the major issues that businesses want to see addressed before the next election. The initial announcement today and outline of how the Manchester mayoral model would work seems to have gone some way in addressing this.
We obviously need to see the finer details to make sure there is a recognised role for business to play in this as well as look at how more of the allocated local budget, including a reformed model for business rates, could be transferred to local control, but it is obvious from the pace and scope of the announcement that this is not only a major change in policy and local governance, but also a major opportunity for Greater Manchester . We have to make sure that business responds and reacts to take advantage of this. We will undoubtedly return to this in the not too distant future.
The Chamber can sometimes appear complex. Like any membership organisation it’s important that there is a proper structure in place supported by acceptable rules to make sure that members feel part of the organisation and understand how they can get involved.
At last week’s AGM a new version of the Articles of Association – the rules of the business – were passed and replaced the set that had been in place for the last few years.
I won’t bore you with the finer points of Chamber governance but one of the major changes was the change made to launch the Chamber Assembly to replace what was the Chamber Council.
As you will know over the last few years there has been a great deal of work done in making the Chamber not only more representative but more capable and confident in being able to take action on behalf of its members. The Campaign for Business 2015 is proof of this. But why in this modern day and age do we still need something like the Assembly?
The ability to gather members to discuss important issues and also identify possible future activity that the Chamber can take action on is crucial. It’s networking, it’s campaign work, it lies at the core of what the Chamber is.
Whilst the 42 Action For Business forums undertake this role successfully in the 10 local areas the Assembly is the overarching body that pulls all this together at a strategic level. Ably supported on specialist areas and issues by the Policy & Campaign Committee means that the Assembly can focus on digging deep into what the real issues are and, more importantly, what members want doing about it. My job and that of my colleagues right across the Chamber is to make sure we do this successfully.
Without this top level of discussion and decision making there would simply not be the ability to deliver anything like the campaign work we have done recently in terms of accuracy, relevance or scale.
And the name change? To be honest using the name Council implied a connection with the public sector and local authorities. We are not and never have been part of either – we are fully and firmly part of the private sector. Amongst various definitions of Assembly is this from Google - a group of people gathered together in one place for a common purpose. I think that says it all.
PS. read more about Assembly here - Chamber Assembly.
Our Campaign for Business has created a huge amount of interest and reaction since its launch in the middle of September. As well as making sure as many businesses as possible have seen the Campaign and encouraged their continued input and engagement we have also made sure that local and national politicians are aware of just what it is that business want from the next government.
Up to now we have been quite generalist in our approach, just making sure that people are aware of the Campaign. However all that will start to change next month as we look at one of the 5 themes in more detail. The first monthly campaign we will be running will be on Infrastructure – one of the largest elements in the Campaign but also one that prompts a tremendous amount of debate and comment from business.
There are some obvious givens in this around wanting better transport, broadband and energy supplies but what is often overlooked is the background “stuff” that goes with this which plays as equally an important part as getting holes dug in the ground (and, hopefully, filled in again!).
Infrastructure investment is one of the areas that fits very neatly with the calls for greater localism and decision making away from Whitehall. Our members have been quite firm in their belief that having “proper” control over the local road network will help with this; having a greater say in public transport services especially the rail network will also be beneficial and having the chance to match up local needs and demand in poorly serviced areas with effective solutions will start to unbundle years of paralysis and neglect.
In theory this should work and it will be very interesting to see who picks this up first as a potential vote winner. Whilst the headlines may have diminished around English MPs for English votes what we need goes beyond this and falls into a brand of activity that has business setting the tempo and influencing where the money goes. If this is backed up and supported by the political element to fight whatever fight is needed with Westminster, this not only starts to put the world back into some sort of order but, more importantly, it allows businesses to influence effectively for the benefit of all.
So, that’s the process sorted but what is it that we should be asking for? The Deputy Prime Minister recently launched the Future North project which involves people uploading their ideas for ways to change the north primarily through radical ideas on infrastructure. The sort of stuff that makes HS2, or HS3 look under-ambitious. So, as we approach November and the big Infrastructure focus I’d like to hear from you about your big idea. We’ll be collating these and joining with other Northern Chambers in sending these to the Chancellor ahead of the Autumn statement in December.
Let me know your big idea in the comments section below or drop me an e-mail. We’ll publish the best on our website and if you need a reminder about what it is that we are campaigning for visit our Infrastructure page.
Our Campaign for Business 2015 has been put together over the last 12 months from a variety of sources and events.
By using the opportunity for meaningful engagement with members at our events, especially the local Action for Business networking events, linking with the Chamber’s Policy & Campaign Committee and Chamber Council, we have managed to refine a huge range of issues and ideas detailed under our 5 campaign themes.
Some started as issues raised by individuals, others have been included as a direct response to major policy initiatives. All, though, at their heart have the interests of businesses as their origin.
This will be my third General Election at the Chamber and I can say two things with certainty – this is the most accurate and comprehensive business campaign document we have produced and this will be the first campaign where our activity will be predominantly produced and delivered digitally. The campaign content, updates and news stories will all be delivered first online through the Chamber’s website or social media.
To support this we will be running individual campaign activity reflecting the 5 major themes starting in November 2014 and running through to March 2015. One campaign theme per month. We will also be setting up a group of member businesses that we will regularly survey throughout the election campaign. By doing this we can track the issues and gather views on how accurate the parties match the calls for action made in this campaign brochure.
We will include as many businesses in this as possible. Once the new government is elected in May our work doesn’t stop. We must make sure that whoever is successful, they deliver what is best for business in Greater Manchester.