My Lords, it may startle my noble friend the Minister if for once I declare two interests. First, it is odd to have a Scot—I declare my interest as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland—heading south of the Border to dabble his toes in devolution for the cities of England. The other interest I have to declare is my interest in sport. We heard the speech of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who alas is temporarily absent from his place, about the importance of sport. As far as my sporting activities are concerned, in 2006 I took a nasty turn, as we say in Scotland, but for 34 years before that I was a member of the Lords and Commons Ski Club, which may also be known as Monty Python’s Flying Ministers. I combine those two aspects when considering the Bill in front of us.
For many years my interest in sport has been more of a sedentary than passionate activity. My attention in the autumn, winter and a good bit of the spring is drawn towards the great city of Liverpool. There are two aspects of sport in that city. One is a very great institution that I deeply respect, while the other institution I both respect and am passionate about; I love it. I went to a prize-giving ceremony at one of these sporting institutions and I visited the redeveloped waterside. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will forgive me for repeating something I mentioned in an earlier speech. I was astonished by the modernity of the waterside development, and above all by the enthusiasm of everyone working there. I am also aware of the colossal newly improved port that is to be developed in Liverpool, but what I was not aware of is the fact that the Minister in an earlier incarnation was the chief executive. It is for that reason I will restrain myself and not call her “Baroness Digger Williams”, because she did most of the preparation work for that enormous port. When it has been completed, we will see what she and many others have done for the city of Liverpool.
We have heard a number of speeches about the area today, and while I enjoyed the crack from the noble Lord, Lord Snape, about greater Birmingham, I understand that there is something called the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Some briefing that I have received tells me the authority is comprised of 10 local authorities of varying size and importance. The authorities originally came together last year and have been granted full powers for transport. As I have found in Edinburgh and Glasgow, there are railway carriages which take people to and from Manchester Airport, which is one vital aspect. I have also discovered from the briefing that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has pooled all the funds of the 10 authorities. It has managed to find £300 million for a separate form of housing which is particularly relevant to Manchester and the north-west. A further £500 million is to be used to invest in the technology skills of boys and girls, pensioners and many other people in the area, giving them specialist advice and a good start. This will perhaps improve their career chances which they may not have had because the systems that they would be using might not be as relevant in London or elsewhere in the country.
The total health budget for the area covered by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is £6 billion, which has provided the authority with enormous flexibility. A point which was stressed by my noble friend Lord Heseltine was the need to look at how to spend the money well and properly. I understand that this has given a huge boost to both social services and health services. Perhaps I may add one particular personal aspect. It concerns the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, which is dear to me thanks to some sporting connections that I have. I became interested in the
Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and its use of specialist facilities to treat young, frightened and sick children. I am thinking of a particularly gutsy young lady who had a difficult handicap. However, she is just one among the thousands who have been helped by the hospital. It has the flexibility to do things its own way. I am sure that the other similar massive institutions such as Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London are excellent, but the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital is able to spend money in a particularly effective way.
I have declared my interest as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, whose motto is “seek the truth”, and there is another motto that I use myself: KISS. It has nothing to do with embraces or anything like that, it stands for “keep it simple, stupid”—but we will cut out that adjective. I hope that my noble friend and the Government will keep those two mottos in front of them. First, seek the truth about the money that you are able to spend, and secondly, keep it simple and see that it is spent wisely. I think that the Bill before us today will certainly outlive many of us here in your Lordships’ House in its effectiveness for regenerating the belt covering the whole of the north from Hull to Liverpool. I wish it well.