Metro Mayors – Next stop Liverpool?

According to reports, Council Leaders across Merseyside will be providing the Government with a list of the powers they would like to gain as part of a devolution deal in just a few weeks. This list of demands will be presented to government ministers by Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson; Cllr Phil Davies, Chair of the Liverpool Region Combined Authority and Leader of Wirral Borough Council; Ged Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council; and David Parr, Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council. These powers are expected to include greater control of housing policy, education and health.

How likely is this to happen?

It is widely known that the Chancellor, George Osborne, will not sign off a devolution deal unless there is a whole-hearted commitment to establishing a Metro-Mayor across the Liverpool City Region, similar to the role created in Greater Manchester, and this has caused controversy across Merseyside, with various political leaders speaking openly against the idea.

In January, the Leader of St Helens Council, Cllr Barrie Grunewald, clashed with Joe Anderson after it was claimed that the St Helens Leader was in favour of creating an elected mayor in Merseyside. “This was simply lies and I will not allow untruths to be spoken in my name” he told The Independent, whilst arguing that local residents across St Helens would not want Merseyside Mayor in control of their local area. Elsewhere, Wirral Leader Cllr Phil Davies, was quick to rebuke comments that had suggested he had accepted that a Metro Mayor was needed at all. With apparently so little agreed by these Merseyside council leaders, it seems that a Metro-Mayor for the Liverpool Region is still a distant possibility. But, there could be light at the end of the tunnel.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has suggested that it is not all doom and gloom and signs of progress are now visible. Jeremey Blackburn, Head of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs at RICS said the, “plan to devolve new powers to Liverpool is progressing well and could well become a full reality in the not-too-distant future” but he warned that the Government needed to do more in terms of support for local governments, such as those in the Liverpool Region, in order to guide council leaders through to a successful outcome. Blackburn makes a valid point. With so much at stake and lots of cross party working needed, support and guidance is an absolute necessity for such a huge and ambitious project. The Government should heed the advice of the RICS and commit to funding a programme of support for the region. This would allow for full consultation process to take place and in turn, foster agreement on how the creation of a Metro-Mayor and its role in the Region would be implemented.

So, are we any closer to seeing Devo-Scouse? I would argue that we are. Despite a history of fighting between the various Merseyside councils which has caused problems in the past, there does seem to be some recognition that progress is needed. With Greater Manchester, only a few miles away, proving to be a real success story in terms of how to successfully implement a regional strategy, Liverpool is steadily getting left behind and may face a situation where it cannot claw its way back. It is believed that the Liverpool Region’s leaders understand this and are now ready to act together to make sure this does not happen.

The question we must ask ourselves now is, what powers are likely to be devolved to the Liverpool City Region? We will not fully know until Joe Anderson and Phil Davies meet with ministers in September. Remarkable will make sure we are ready to report back when they do.

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We discussed this issue at a meeting of Lib Dems from across the Liverpool City Region last night. As there is absolutely no point in asking for powers without excepting a mayoralty there must be an assumption that in private the 6 Labour leaders have agreed to put up with this. This is essentially the Lib Dem position. The opportunity to better spendupmto £4.5 billion is too good an opportunity to miss. We don’t believe that elected mayors are a good idea but we will put up with the position for the sake of the devolution and decentralisation promised.

By Cllr Richard Kemp

A united and strong Liverpool City Region is essential if it is to compete and realise its potential to become one of the most dynamic cities outside London..

By Paul Blackburn