October 20: Time to speak with one voice

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Devolution divisions will not help jobs fight

THE undiplomatic and unedifying war of words between James Wharton, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, and Middlesbrough FC chairman Steve Gibson over the closure of the Redcar steelworks is unbecoming of both men at a time of crisis on Teesside when politicians and business leaders need to be working together after the loss of at least 1,700 jobs.

Yes, Mr Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South, was crass and complacent when he said that “Teesside is doing well” but the plight of redundant steelworkers and ancillary staff will not be helped by Mr Gibson letting off steam and describing the Minister as “a clown”. Insults will only detract attention away from maintaining public pressure on the Government to fulfil its promises to these shellshocked communities.

However, this lack of co-operation is not unique to the North East. It is also symptomatic of the stand-off between political leaders in West Yorkshire and the rest of the county over devolution arrangements. This is exemplified by the terse letter which has been sent to East Riding Council leader Steve Parnaby by his five counterparts in West Yorkshire, plus Roger Marsh, who is chairman of the Leeds Local Enterprise Partnership.

Keen for Leeds City Region to go it alone, they’re disdainful towards those behind the so-called Greater Yorkshire framework which would see political leaders from the West, North and East Ridings joining forces to ensure that this county is not left marginalised by rival regions, like Greater Manchester, where cross-boundary co-operation is already yielding significant new powers and dividends.

Rather than dismissing the idea out of hand, how about the county’s council leaders and MPs coming together to see if common ground can be sought? After all, the future fortunes of both Leeds City Region and the rest of Yorkshire need to be inextricably linked if both are to prosper.

Equal partners? The UK’s relationship with China

THE importance of the UK’s economic ties with China will be clear for all to see during President Xi Jinping’s historic state visit to Britain this week – the pomp and pageantry will be interspersed with a number of major announcements on planned Chinese investment in Britain’s creaking transport and economic infrastructure.

David Cameron’s message to human rights protesters and other demonstrators will be this – the Government cannot afford to turn its back on this economic superpower – and that closer ties on trade, and so on, will enable this country to exert diplomatic pressure when it comes to issues ranging from free speech to state-sponsored counterespionage.

It remains to be seen whether this is the case. Even though the Prime Minister has insisted that no issue is off the table, a reference to the chill in Anglo-Chinese relations following his meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2012, George Osborne’s visit to China last month could not have been more respectful of his hosts – he deliberately chose not to mention the thorny issue of human rights or how steel exports were decimating the industry at Scunthorpe and on Teesside.

The Chancellor should derive no pride from this omission. For, if Britain and China are equal partners in this new relationship, there is no reason why closer economic links cannot go hand-in-hand with a constructive and respectful dialogue on human rights without compromising this country’s values.

Leeds United: How NOT to run a business

if THERE is an object lesson in how not to run a successful business, it is provided by the latest managerial merry-go-round at Elland Road where the unfortunate Steve Evans has become the sixth manager since the impulsive and now banned Massimo Cellino took control of Leeds United less than two years ago. A job once associated with the game’s greats, it is now the least secure in football and the revolving door policy is indicative of the club’s sorry decline from European Cup contenders to Championship also-rans.

No credible private sector enterprise is run like this – Leeds United’s one-time rivals Manchester United and Arsenal built their football and commercial success on continuity at the top – and it would be remiss not to highlight the wider ramifications. Many towns and cities have discovered that Premier League football is integral to the success, and dynamism, of their local economy because games attract spectators from far and wide. The biggest loser of all will be the West Yorkshire city, and those working in its leisure industry, until there is stability on and off the pitch at Elland Road.