Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer reading tips - a few books to get through

I love the summer holidays for catching up on topical reading, it’s a good time to open your mind to fresh ideas, escape with a story or just learn something new about our wonderful world. Apart from Lake Coniston, here’s what I’ll be diving into.

‘The Cotton Harvest’ by AK Nawaz I love urban crime noir. My favourite of this genre is James Crumley who set his grimy tales in Missoula, Montana. Having never been there I can’t properly say whether he’s done a good portrayal or not. Anyway, I know who AK Nawaz is (this isn’t his real name) but he should be able to get a decent grip on Manchester crime.

‘The Killing Pool’ by Kevin Sampson, set in Liverpool, Sampson has a good ear and a ready feel for all walks of life. His Awaydays was superb and this looks the business as well.

'The Atmospheric Railway and other stories' by Shena Mackay - I first read a collection by this quite brilliant English writer when I backpacked around Turkey in 1986. I'm looking forward to this collection after picking it up at a church sale last month. 

Welcome to Entrepreneur Country by Julie Meyer So far this has been an easy to read, but hard to swallow business book for a holiday. I like the crazy utopianism of Julie’s world view, which she advanced so elegantly at a Downtown and TechHub event earlier this month.

The Last Days of Detroit by Mark Binelli – Anyone involved in city politics and urban development looks at Detroit with horror. In fact, everyone looks at Detroit with horror, except the tourists who come to photograph urban decay and say they’ve come to see what the end of the world will look like. The former Motor City has recently gone bankrupt. Now I’ve had this for a while and have been dipping into it, but it’s a well argued, well researched examination of what went wrong and how it can bounce back.

‘The Quarry’ by Iain Banks – the last book by the recently departed Scottish author. I have really enjoyed The Crow Road and The Business and love the premise of this one, a group of university friends gathering together years later. Also touches on themes like parental mortality and autism, personal interests of mine.

‘Northern Monkeys’ by William Routledge – OK, I have a vested interest in this compelling anthology of quality musings on fashion, football and frolics through the years, but it’s still a great book to discover new insights and nuances. A wonderful reference and a work of beauty.

Five Days in May by Andrew Adonis - Having spent a bit of time with Andrew Adonis this year I have been impressed at his determination to get economic policy right for Labour, but also to work across party lines to articulate projects in the national interest – like HS2, Academies, promotion of LEPs and apprenticeships. This is his insider’s account of the birth of the Coalition government.

That should get me through the first week, any other suggestions gratefully received.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Rose Hill Stores, a sad and predictable end

It would be a heart of stone that didn't at least feel a modicum of sympathy for the owner of Rose Hill Stores, which closed for business last week. Shortly after buying the old Post Office site and opening a Spar convenience store, the neighbouring shop, Thresher, went bust. He didn't cause their demise, far from it, but it did show that Soviet style planning and licensing of shop types doesn't exist in this area. There's a link here to other blogs on the store wars.
He also started selling newspapers, something plenty of other shops in Marple do, and are having to find other things to add to their offer.
Not long after, the next door shop was turned into a rival and bigger convenience shop, owned by a chain with bigger buying power, the Rajah Brothers.
Then it got ugly. Undercutting, police raids, accusations of intimidation and rows over access to the car parking at the front. The pictures above illustrate the lengths the owner went to in order to prevent cars parking on the land by his shop in order to shop at the Premier. Bollards and chains also made it very hard to park there, and threats not to shop at Premier if you parked there. I only ever went to Premier once, when Spar didn't have what I needed. I gave up when the parking situation got unpleasant. 
The only possible lesson you can take from it is that whenever you start any business there will be competition. You too will be someone else's competition. Not one single customer owes you their loyalty because you want to be in business, or because you are a person like them, just trying to make a living. Time and again independent shops are up against multiples. It is hard, very hard. But the ones that succeed aren't the ones that worry about what the competition do, but who think about what the customers can get that the competition can't do. 

In happier Marple retail news, I notice that Felix at Murillos Tapas Bar and Restaurant has opened a deli counter. Good luck mate.

Confessions of a Groundhopper - blogging for the Northwest Football Awards

One of the first things I do when the fixtures come out is look out for all the away trips that can take in a new ground.
I admit it, I’m a groundhopper and this is my confession. I’ve watched football on 135 different grounds around the world, all but a dozen in Britain. I love the feeling of walking through the turnstiles at a new ground, sampling the atmosphere, tasting the pies, weighing up the balance of two teams of toilers at an unfamiliar standard and feeding off the crowd's knowledge of who is who.
One of my favourite ever football books is The Football Grounds of England and Wales by Simon Inglis. He lovingly describes the architecture and the setting of each ground.
I also devoured the photography of Stuart Clarke – Homes of Football.
Last season I notched off Chesterfield as the 76th of the current 92, partly as a homage to see Adebayo Akinfenwa, the cult Northampton Town player and a favourite on FIFA 12 on the Xbox.
Except it isn't, it was my 63rd. I've lost 11 who have new stadiums, and then there is the Wimbledon situation which I'm not sure how I count that.
On the Punk 92 I'm at 76. That is, if you’ve watched one of the 92 at their ground it counts.

Of rules, it's 63. Same with the 92 Club.
I have a badge celebrating my membership of the 100 Grounds Club, and love visiting the blog with its stories of toilet blocks, railway sleeper terraces and rebuilt clubhouses.

But as I said, I count non-league as well and of the total grounds visited it's now at 135. My short term targets are to get all the Greater Manchester non-league grounds.
In an age when so many new stadiums are so boring and so much the same – it’s a treat to sample a rough character of the non-league set-ups. It’s great that the North West Football Awards has such strong connections to the grass roots of football through community clubs categories and a recognition of the progress made throughout the Conference and Conference North.
To give my non-league adventures a bit of a purpose I'm going to try and chalk off the Greater Manchester grounds this season.  But next up will be Glossop North End this Saturday, then any one from Curzon Ashton, Radcliffe Borough, Ramsbottom United (steam trains too!) or Trafford.
Also as a part-time Blackburn Rovers fan I’ll be taking in away games, especially targeting new grounds - we’re looking forward to Doncaster Rovers in the league this season for a first trip to the Keepmoat Stadium on August the 16th.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Somewhere beginning with M - Manchester - Melbourne connections

Melbourne Australia: World’s most liveable city (by InvestVictoria)
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Something beginning with M - the Manchester Melbourne connection
I only lived in Melbourne, Australia, very briefly, but it’s a city I admire greatly. And it’s a city that Manchester has much to learn from and both cities have much knowledge to share.
There’s a love or sport, music and clubbing. Both are cities with proud traditions of welcoming immigrants – Melbourne has the second largest Greek population after Athens and yet still has more Italians than Greeks. All of this has been flooding back recently as I’ve finally got round to reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, I know, the book everyone had their head in two years ago. But it’s set in Melbourne, and has provided something of a tour of this ethnic, cultural and sometimes tense melting pot.
Mancunians also share a certain chippines about the main city in our country. Sydneysiders have a swagger and an arrogance and think their city is the first and last place of importance in the country. Sound familiar?
So I was delighted to read in Monocle magazine that Melbourne was named the second most livable city on the planet this year, tucked in behind Copenhagen.
The factors that fell in Melbourne’s favour included a strong economic performance – noting positive jobs growth, regional infrastructure developments, but also improvements in cycling and public transport.
I like the Monocle annual quality of life index because it picks up things that other surveys ignore, but are integral to the happiness of creative and urbane people who value things like shopping hours and amount of outdoor public seating.
As the capital city of the state of Victoria, Melbourne has the feel of a confident and progressive city. It is more industrial and mercantile too, innovative and attractive to international companies. KPMG research found it to be the best city in the world to carry out commercial scientific research, thanks to a generous tax regime.
The state government will give back 45 cents in every dollar spent by start-up businesses with turnover under A$20m, but it’s not just the system, but the ease with which it is implemented. How often do you hear the complaint that UK tax rules are so complicated businesses just don’t bother applying?
But I also return to the issue of autonomy. By targeting research and development, and making some adjustments to its tax policy, the state has been able to make this commitment. We indeed have much to learn and share.
I say all of this, because I’m meeting with a cross-party group of MPs from the Victorian State Parliament next week. They are coming to Manchester to find out about how this city has achieved so much. The public private partnerships here are admired around the world. So it’s particularly flattering that a city like Melbourne has much to learn from Manchester. But I shall very much enjoy the interchange of insights and look forward to sharing them with Downtown members too.
I am currently holding my breath as to whether cricket will be a topic for discussion.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

We have to get a move on – or HS2 will bring our talent closer to London

Imagine a scenario when High Speed Rail gets built. That the cities of the North have still lagged behind. That Scotland has a generous corporation tax regime that draws in ambitious technology businesses to Glasgow and to Silicon Glen. And that London continues its inexorable rise as a global powerhouse.

A new train line that can take people from Manchester to the centre of London, to a newly built Euston station (pictured), in just over an hour, does just that. It draws people in. Just that. There is no reason for the traffic to be two ways – few other meaningful businesses have followed the BBC to MediaCity and the public sector is still the biggest employer in large swathes of the North.

It simply can’t happen. It simply can’t be allowed to happen. And if we needed any further impetus to get political leaders in the cities to dig in for greater autonomy and power to have serious control over government budgets in an effective way for our urban economies, then this is it.

Geoff Muirhead, the former CEO of Manchester Airports Group made these points and more at our Northern Revolution conference yesterday.

This is the one that sharpens our senses though. If you accept the arguments that HS2 is going to happen, then we recognise it presents a challenge to the North as much as it does an opportunity. The prize is double edged – just relying on it and becoming a far flung suburb of London would be a disaster. It has to be more than that.

Any successful city has to create its own magnetism – a reason to draw people in, retain the talented and mobile, and provide a living and a quality of life for its people. And that’s the challenge of all of us.

Mike Emmerich, chief executive of new economy, an articulate and wise servant of the city who has experience of working in Whitehall, made the good point that public and economic policy needs to work on what is organically there. Otherwise it will fail. There is plenty of evidence of that all around us of abandoned schemes to dream a shiny new building into a rundown town and hope the investment will follow. It’s harder than that. It’s about economic performance, people then place. In that order.

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