Why I think they are the best option for the Liverpool City Region
My response to Phil Davies’ comments in today’s Echo
When I called for a Combined Authority in the Liverpool City Region five years ago, the move was rejected by Wirral and St Helens. Without one, it is safe to say, we have been left behind by others who moved forward much more quickly in the interests of their citizens and businesses. Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and others have successfully used the Combined Authority model to their advantage. They have received more money, more powers, more respect than we have been able to lever in to the Liverpool City Region
However, today the debate has moved one step further than ever before. The Scottish Referendum has given us a new opportunity to advance the case for greater devolution to the Liverpool City Region for our residents and their future. When real devolution is being talked about by progressive politicians on all sides, we need to listen to what they are saying and watch carefully the direction they wish to see local government take.
This is a real window of opportunity and if we don’t seize it the Liverpool City Region will be left behind as other places move to a more democratic, modern professional, accountable form of local government – because they ‘get it’, they understand the opportunities in front of them.
Shortly it will be announced which cities will be chosen by Government to receive more powers and I believe the Liverpool City Region will not be chosen. Why? Well in my view it is because we are seen by others as having a short-sighted prism of local politics rather than the greater good of the wider Region.
The fact is if we don’t respond and if we don’t act, Liverpool City Region’s need for national subsidy will continue to increase. An ageing population increases our social care costs. Our employment rates are below the national average, and the interventions to create training, apprenticeships and education are costly. What we need to spend is not matched by what the Government is currently giving us. It does not bode well for the future deficit of the whole City Region.
Without action, the dependency ratio will worsen, because too much of what we spend is on the cost of failure, making it difficult to invest in our successes like life science industries and our creative and cultural companies, just to mention a couple.
The need for freedoms and an empowered directly-elected person with the legitimacy to drive through radical transformation and break out of this cycle is crucially important if we are to have a sustainable future.
I have championed the need for a modern accountable form of Governance, Metro Mayors, for over fourteen years now and a Combined Authority was always the second best model. Why? Well democratic accountability is the most important standard, allowing for the people to decide through the ballot box who should act on their behalf as head of their Region and with what priorities.
A Metro Mayor does exactly that, it cuts through the parochialism and does what is in the best interest of the whole not a part of it. A Mayor for the City Region would be elected on the basis of a commitment to work for the whole Region promoting growth and creating jobs, bringing together units and departments together saving money but delivering better outcomes and services.
Secondly, if you are demanding the devolution and decentralisation of more powers, including fiscal responsibility which would involve control over £Billions, then Government in return would need to know that this is not being managed part-time by a group of Councillors who meet every four to six weeks. They would demand change and rightly so.
Just imagine what we could achieve with powers over transport, skills and housing and the ability to have place-based budgets over, say, five years. The strength of speaking for over 1.4 million people with one voice, a voice that Government of whatever colour would have to listen to. For example – negotiating a new Tunnel deal so that we could reduce and cap tunnel tolls, with the ability to re-invest the income stream in much needed improved infrastructure; capitalising on the opportunity to transform Southport through dedicated investment to create a highly desirable residential location and visitor destination Sefton could be proud of. More jobs, more housing, better schools all can be delivered across the whole Region if together we grasp the opportunity to catch others up and not lag behind them.
Government will only work with those who will modernise; devolution will come to those who move fastest not the slowest. The Liverpool City Region needs to be amongst the pacesetters.