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Towers of the Northern Powerbase

Of the six new mayoral roles being voted for today – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, West of England and West Midlands (currently under Conservative guardianship) and Greater Manchester, Liverpool City region and Tees Valley (under Labour) four are of northern noteworthiness.

The contest in the West Midlands mayorfest is principally between Siôn Simon, a Labour MEP for the region, and Andy Street, who last year resigned his chairmanship of John Lewis plc, a well-known and profitable UK retail company, in order to launch himself into taking up the Conservative baton in good time.
The winner will have the biggest personal mandate of any UK politician outside London, becoming a figurehead for a region populated by 2.8m people across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Simon is seeking to retain core working class support – where 60% of voters voted to leave the EU.
What was it Osborne the arch slogger said about slogans in his maiden Evening Standard editorial this week about Theresa May’s election campaign?
Simon has seized the Take Back Control meme used by the Vote Leave campaign, having substituted throwing off the shackles from Brussels for liberation from Westminster … and as far as I know he is still a Labour MEP for the region.
In 2010, he stood down from Parliament (following an expenses debacle, all a misunderstanding of course) to campaign for direct election of the Mayor of Birmingham, with the intent of running in the first election. Having failed in that effort, Simon ran in the 2014 EU elections.

As for Street – having worked his way up through department stores, head office and manufacturing units, he became MD in 2007 and, during his tenure at the top, oversaw a 50% increase in gross sales to over £4.4bn, a doubling in the number of stores and the growth of the company’s online sales department – in spite of the economic fallout that has unfolded since 2007.

And while Simon began his political career as an arch-Blairite and has recently declared his support for Jeremy Corbyn, Street was voted the UK’s most admired leader in 2014. What are the chances eh?

Meanwhile local Conservative councillor Ben Houchen could even win the mayoral bunfight in Tees Valley – where more than 60% of its constituents voted to leave the EU.
Victory in either contest would crown what is expected to be Labour’s biggest council election drubbing for 35 years.

Liverpool – home of the Beatles – sits on the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary and its growth as a major port was paralleled by the expansion of the city throughout the Industrial Revolution. Along with general cargo, freight and raw materials such as coal and cotton, the city was also involved in the Atlantic slave trade. It has been a centre of industrial and later innovation: railways, transatlantic steamships, municipal trams and electric trains were all pioneered here as modes of mass transit.
The world’s first integrated sewer system was constructed in Liverpool by James Newlands, appointed in 1847 as the UK’s first borough engineer.

The city celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2007, and shared European Capital of Culture status together with Stavanger, Norway, in 2008. Several areas of the city centre were granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2004. The Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City includes the Pier Head, Albert Dock, and William Brown Street.
Spearheaded by the multi-billion-pound Liverpool ONE development, regeneration has continued through to the start of the early 2010s – yet these projects could be eclipsed by the Liverpool Waters scheme, which if built, will cost around £5.5bn and be one of the largest projects in the UK’s history.
In June 2014, former PM David Cameron launched the International Festival for Business in Liverpool, the world’s largest business event in 2014, and the largest in the UK since the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Labour candidate Steve Rotheram has been MP for Liverpool Walton since 2010, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition since 2015, and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, while Conservative candidate Tony Caldeira is a businessman and was candidate for Mayor of Liverpool in 2012 and 2016.
All six local authorites are under Labour control.

The EU referendum resulted in Liverpool voting 58.2% to stay, followed by Sefton at 51.9% and Wirral at 51.7%.
St Helens and Halton topped the leave votes at 58% and 57.4% followed by Knowsley at 51.6%.

And lastly, Greater Manchester – whose enterprise culture has evolved over two centuries, when unplanned urbanisation brought on by a boom in textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, resulted in it becoming the world’s first industrialised city, achieving city status in 1853.
The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, creating the Port of Manchester and linking the city to sea, 30 odd miles to the west.
Manchester Liverpool Road railway station was the world’s first inter-city passenger railway station.

Its fortunes declined after the Second World War, owing to deindustrialisation, but the IRA bombing in 1996 led to extensive investment and regeneration.
In 2014, the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network ranked Manchester as a beta world city, the highest-ranked British city apart from London.

A region of 2.7m people boasts an outstanding university science base, strong flows of inward investment, Europe’s largest industrial estate at Trafford Park, a world class airport – and a global sports brand at Old Trafford *cough* 😉

It is the birthplace of the world’s first stored-program computer in 1948, and where scientists first split the atom – and more recently where graphene was rediscovered, isolated, and characterised in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester, and whose work resulted in them both winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”

Nine out of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities are Labour-controlled – three of which, Manchester, Trafford and Stockport voted 60.4%, 57.7% and 52.3% to stay in the EU.
Wigan, Tameside and Oldham at 63.9%, 61.1% and 60.9% topped the Leave votes, followed by Rochdale, Bolton, Salford and Bury at 60.1%, 58.3%, 56.8% and 54.1%.

Andy Burnham, Liverpool-born two-time party leadership loser, who has very recently stood down as an MP in the expectation of mayoral victory – and widely seen as an ‘unprincipled flip-flopper’ – has only lately paid lip-service to city-region devolution and the Northern Powerhouse, and has never in his life had anything to do with enterprise.

If there’d been any beer on tap in our local polling station, a whole bunch of us would likely still be there now nattering. “Why is a Liverpudlian even standing for Manchester, when Liverpool’s on the ticket?” was the theme.

Manchester’s Conservative candidate Sean Anstee (council leader in the conurbation’s sole Tory borough, Trafford) is already a respected and well-networked player in the devolution project. The odds have been against him. but they surely ought to have narrowed when common sense suggests choosing a mayor who favours prosperity and connect to power, over an opportunist carpetbagging has-been.

Now that George Osborne has seemingly abandoned the Manchester-centred Powerhouse for, among other distractions, the London-centred Printworks, the region clearly needs a champion who is trusted by local business leaders and has access to Downing Street. A victorious Burnham is more likely to be left sulking in his stronghold, as he has absolutely no claim to a working relationship with Theresa May – particularly if the Tories win West Midlands and shower it with investment as a reward.

These six elections have given voters the opportunity to pick 1st and 2nd choices – and I have a sense there’ll be many an unsuspecting blooper among the ballot papers.

Oh and Greater Manchester results won’t even begin to be counted until tomorrow morning, under seal until 9am I’ve been reliably informed.

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May the 4th be with you!

How quickly two years pass – enough time however, for the UK landscape to have seismically changed since Parliament was last dissolved.

Politicians of all hues will be launching their various election campaigns as of tomorrow – and by the time polls close at the end of the day following county council and mayoral elections, the insurgents will begin targeting battlegrounds in earnest.

The backdrop in no particular order of significance

England

Out of 27 county council elections being held in England, many with new electoral division boundaries, sixteen are currently led by Conservatives, two Labour – with no overall control in its various permutations for the rest.
Among these, LibDems currently share power with Conservatives in one, and Labour another. They lead none.

Seven single-tier unitary authorities are holding elections.
Out of these, two are currently held by Conservatives, one Labour, one Independent – the other three under no overall control, one of which LibDems are in coalition with Independents.

One metropolitan borough has all of its seats up for election, after the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster moved to hold whole council elections in 2015.
These results will be of particular interest, as 46922 Doncastrians voted to remain in the EU last year – while a resounding 104260 wanted out. And this borough is currently under Labour control.
North Yorkshire, among the 27 mentioned above and another emphatic leaver, is currently in Conservative hands.

Two elections for directly elected local district mayors will be held, again in Doncaster, the other North Tyneside – both of whose whose current Labour incumbents may be usurped.

Six elections for directly elected regional mayors will be held. These newly established positions will lead combined authorities set up by groups of local councils, as part of devolution deals giving the combined authorities additional powers and funding.
Interim mayor/chairs are three a piece between Tories and Labour – and the results here will have a considerable impact, in my opinion.

Wales

22 regions are up for grabs – and not a LibDem or Conservative among them.
Ten are currently Labour, one Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist Party) and two Independents.
The rest are no overall control – but at least the Tories are currently in coalition with Plaid Cymru/Independents 😉
Aaand a quick reminder that 52.5% of Wales voted to leave the EU.

Scotland

All eyes then on the 32 regions here!
Only two are currently led by SNP, four Labour and one Independent.
That leaves 25 currently under no overall control … not for long, I suspect.
The big question is, to what degree will bias swing the LibDem or Conservative way?

I can’t say that I’ve ever paid so much attention to flippin’ local elections, but there’s a first time for everything.
Do. Or do not. There is no try 😉

What Price Freedom?

Forty years ago the nation voted to remain in the Common Market

Rather curious it is to note that European bureaucrats and politicians alike have this last week or so rather invidiously ditched the Single Market term in favour of the former – a common market which is long since an entity of yesteryear.

There is so much I could write about, but it has mostly been said by others – and more besides – save for a few morsels now.

In 1980, the bloc accounted for over 30% of global GDP. Now, with many more member states, the tally amounts to little more than 15%.
In contrast to five years ago, the UK currently exports 42% of its goods and services to the EU, sharply down from 55% – and in ten years’ time it is unlikely to be more than 35%, and could be even less if the Eurozone continues to decline rapidly in relative terms.

EU is declining as UK export destination

Maintaining the status quo that we currently endure – which is that the UK, second in GDP size only to Germany, has only a small share of the votes in Brussels and is frequently easily outvoted – is long past its sell-by date.

In the scheme of things Europe simply isn’t economically important enough for us to succumb to an over-bloated, deeply undemocratic jobs-for-the-boys syndicate in order to trade with it. And no matter what anyone has postulated, the UK is significantly more significant to the EU for them to drag their feet over finding an interim solution if the UK elected to leave the EU. So they’ll trade with us anyway, as our £60bn trade deficit with the bloc will galvanise Germany’s automotive, mechanical engineering, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, together with French wineries and Italian furniture-makers into making sure of it.

Germany has very little to gain and an awful lot to lose

Only last week the Ifo Institute forecast that a jobs boom and migrant-related state spending should help Germany’s economy grow faster than expected this year and next – but the extra momentum might well be lost if Britain, Germany’s third largest trading partner, votes to leave the EU.

The consequences for trade and competitiveness of a European Union minus Britain could, under a worst-case scenario, shave up to 3% off Germany’s long-term expansion. Overall, Germany exports goods and services worth about £95bn to the UK, or about 8% of its exports.

Also last week an analysis by the German Institute for Economic Research reported that Brexit would reduce GDP growth by as much as 0.5% in 2017, losing 0.1% this year.

I only mention the economy, because that appears to be the biggest stick that those of us who wish to be relieved of the shackles of dictatorship are beaten with.

In short – the value of sovereignty cannot be measured by any economist’s formula.

Whatever you decide, don’t forget to bring your own pencil.

bring your own pencil

Lastly – a header quote from the Prime Minister in Sunday’s Telegraph:

“An abject, self-imposed humiliation awaits if this proud, important country walks away.”

Awaits whom, Dave? You?

Farce presented as Freedom

Vive la transparence UE style …

This is what happened when Luke Flanagan (an MEP) tried to examine the text of the TTIP trade deal in the EU reading room:

Meanwhile details of an internal government document, written earlier this year have emerged today, suggesting that Britain is losing out on £2.5 billion a year in potential trade as a result of continuing delays to proposed new ‘free-trade’ deals between the EU and Latin America – due to France and 13 other EU countries flexing a protectionist stance of their farmers from the extra competition.

It’s been a while since I lozzacked in the loft — and it’s time to clear out the cobwebs — sooo … to be continued 😉

One Big Rip-off

Ok, so that’s not what the OBR stands for, but today’s combined UK spending review and autumn statement amounts to little more than an overdose of bollitics — straight from the Chancellor’s (neeeiiigh the Prime Minister’s, according to the Speaker) mouth:

“Since the Summer Budget, housing associations in England have been reclassified by our independent Office for National Statistics and their borrowing and debts been brought onto the public balance sheet – and that change will be backdated to 2008.

This is a statistical change and therefore the OBR has re-calculated its previous Budget forecast to include housing associations, so we can compare like with like.

On that new measure, debt was forecast in July to be 83.6% of national income this year. Now, today, in this Autumn Statement, they forecast debt this year to be lower at 82.5%. It then falls every year, down to 81.7% next year, down to 79.9% in 2017-18, then down again to 77.3% and then 74.3%, reaching 71.3% in 2020-21.

In every single year, the national debt as a share of national income is lower than when I presented the Budget four months ago.

This improvement in the nation’s finances is due to two things.

First, the OBR expects tax receipts to be stronger. A sign that our economy is healthier than thought.

Second, debt interest payments are expected to be lower – reflecting the further fall in the rates we pay to our creditors.

Combine the effects of better tax receipts and lower debt interest, and overall the OBR calculate it means a £27 billion improvement in our public finances over the forecast period, compared to where we were at the Budget.

Mr Speaker, this improvement in the nation’s finances allows me to do the following.

First, we will borrow £8 billion less than we forecast – making faster progress towards eliminating the deficit and paying down our debt. Fixing the roof when the sun is shining.

Second, we will spend £12 billion more on capital investments – making faster progress to building the infrastructure our country needs.

And third, the improved public finances allow us to reach the same goal of a surplus while cutting less in the early years. We can smooth the path to the same destination.”

… to be continued

GDP revisited

Official data are expected to confirm that Britain’s recovery from the worst recession in generations has been far stronger than previously thought.

GDP revisions to be published by the ONS on 30 September will reveal significantly stronger growth in recent years, perhaps going some way to explain the productivity conundrum that has confounded so many smarties for so long.

The ONS has already indicated the scale of revisions up to the fourth quarter of 2013, and this Wednesday’s release of national accounts for the second quarter will extend the process to the present. The numbers currently available show that the recovery in 2010 was weaker than previously thought, but significantly stronger from 2011 to 2013. GDP is now estimated to have risen by a cumulative 6.0% between the fourth quarters of 2010 and 2013, equivalent to 2.0% at an annualised rate, versus a prior 4.2%, or 1.4% annualised.

Figures are set to show UK growth in 2011 was a rosy 2% at the height of the Eurozone’s battles – up from 1.6% in previous estimates, while growth in 2012 is likely to be revised up to 1.2% from 0.7%, and in 2013 from 1.7% to 2.2% — with GDP overtaking its pre-recession peak in Q2 2013, one quarter earlier than previously thought. The consensus at the time was for a sub-1% outcome, with much talk most unforgettably from the IMF of the risk of a recession.

Wednesday’s release may extend the upward revisions to growth since Q4 2013 — but even if the quarterly path since then remains unchanged, the upgrades to earlier data imply that the GDP increase in 2014 will be raised to 3.3%.

the story so far

the story so far

The revisions reflect a combination of methodological changes and new data.

Just to remind ourselves, the headline three months ago read “Building growth: UK economy grew 3% not 2.8% in 2014 as statistics body changes the way it measures construction.” According to the ONS, the biggest impact has come from measures to improve coverage of small business activity and to capture income concealed by tax evasion. The revisions could affect financial balances in some sectors i.e. income minus spending: notably the household sector is currently estimated to be running a deficit, where net lending was -£5.4bn, equivalent to 1.7% of available income in Q1 2015.

The revisions are unlikely to alter MPC thinking — the direction, if not the scale, was expected and the MPC will likely attribute most of the upgrade to better supply-side performance, implying little change to its estimate of slack. They are, however, potentially more significant for fiscal policy, since they may result in the OBR raising its estimate of trend GDP growth, in turn boosting revenue forecasts — which will doubtless be of great cheer to UK Chancellor George Osborne ahead of his spending review and the Autumn Statement due in November, as the scale of spending cuts needed to meet targets may be smaller than the OBR judged at the time of the July Budget.

Nevertheless, the revised data could give rise to speculation of an earlier interest rate rise — which would add spice to the anticipation of next week’s MPC meeting and minutes — but most conomists are of the opinion that the BoE will stand pat until the spring of next year.

Putting bread in the basket

Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang spoke of the need to modernise Chinese agriculture, to help counter slower economic growth by driving investment in rural infrastructure and boosting consumption.

Investing in infrastructure in rural areas would help mop up some of the excess capacity in China’s steel and cement industries, for instance, as well as create new jobs, while overhauling farming models and improving efficiency in distribution systems should also boost rural incomes.

Farmers constitute the country’s largest consumer group, with some 630m people still making a living from agriculture, but productivity lags far behind that of developed countries as its share of GDP has declined over the years — and by increasing farmers’ incomes through accelerated agricultural modernisation, “we can activate farmers’ huge potential consumption demand,” he wrote in the Party journal Qiushi.

Although the country is self-sufficient in its most important food crops, its intensive farming practices which employ the excessive use of fertilisers, pesticides and plastic sheeting have caused serious environmental damage and threaten food safety. Farmers needed to focus on consumer demand rather than production volumes, and Li urged them to produce safe food and specialty products including organic ones.

“Currently, the quality and safety of agricultural products is generally stable, but hidden risks linger and people still frequently break the law,” Li said. “There are many steps in the distribution of farm products so costs are high. There is much wastage and efficiency is low, leading to farmers having trouble selling their products while consumers pay too much. This has long been a chronic problem.”

Li iterated the need to promote new types of farming models such as larger family farms, and to encourage the transfer of land rights to allow people who remain in the countryside to expand their farms — but farmers struggle to get loans to expand, as they have no assets to use as collateral. All Chinese farmland is owned by the State and the right to farm the land is leased to rural residents, and while Beijing has recently allowed them to transfer farming rights to others, larger farms struggle to obtain financing to increase their output.

It’s late into the night now here, but six months on, Li’s word is his deed — the State Council announced earlier today that China will launch a pilot programme allowing farmers to use their land and property as collateral for loans. In an effort to bolster financial support for the cash-starved farm sector, the move is aimed at deepening monetary reform.

As it is, Heilongjiang province, China’s breadbasket in the northeast, and eastern Shandong province have already begun experimenting with the use of land rights as collateral. Under the new project, both land use rights and property could be pledged to secure bank loans, and farmers’ interests would be strictly enforced.

“We will steadily and appropriately conduct the pilot programme on the use of the two rights as collateral, on condition that risks will be controlled and on the basis of relevant laws and policies on rural and reforms,” the Council stated.

The PBoC will encourage financial institutions to participate in the pilot and increase support for qualified institutions through re-lending, while the banking regulator would study ‘differentiated’ policies in setting capital adequacy ratios.

The Council will maintain the ‘red line’ in arable land – a minimum area mandated by the government to be reserved for growing crops to protect food security.

There is still an argument, however, that farmers should be allowed to use their contracted land rights rather than their operating rights as collateral. Contracted rights are derived from the collective land owner or local government to households for 30 or 40 years, who in turn can lease the right to use the land to others, while operating rights are only awarded for a few years — thus longer-term contracted rights generate an income stream which would be of more value to banks as security.

This all adds up to a timely moment to reduce lending rates.
But banks may yet be reluctant to take land and property rights as collateral, and the most important step the State could take would be to allow them to be traded freely.
Not unlike the yuan then.

In your own time, China.

Dragon on the Fringe

Dragon on the Fringe