Liverpool City Council leader, Mayor Joe Anderson, is seeking legal advice after the inaugural meeting of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on Tuesday ended in dispute.
A public row has erupted with Anderson threatening to withdraw from the combined authority after the leadership vote was allegedly held in secret without his presence to ensure he was not elected chairman of the super-authority.
The combined authority is made up of leaders from the six councils of Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, Halton and St Helens, in addition to representatives from the Local Enterprise Partnership. Liverpool City Region Combined Authority officially came into being on 1 April and its inaugural meeting was held at Mann Island at 11am the same day. The combined authority was aimed at sharing policy and resources around transport, housing, planning and economic development to accelerate growth of the sub-region.
At this week's meeting members voted to select the body's chairman and deputy chairman; Cllr Phil Davies, leader of Wirral, took the former role, with Cllr Ron Round, from Knowsley, elected as his deputy. However, Anderson and Cllr Peter Dowd from Sefton Council were outside the meeting at the time when the vote was taken and not included in the process.
A leaked email from Anderson on 1 April to Liverpool Labour councillors said: "I am considering options at the moment and seeking legal advice and will discuss this further at full council in two weeks. However my own view is I can't sign up to something which disadvantages our city."
In a tweet last night Anderson said: "The legal advice is about how we extricate ourselves from the process legally not about others behaviour."
A spokesman for Liverpool City Council said this morning: "This was not the most auspicious start to the first meeting of the Combined Authority and we would question the rationale of taking a key decision on the Chair and Vice Chair when two of its biggest constituents were not in the room.
"Liverpool and Sefton represent half of the residents in the City Region and just over half of the businesses, and yet this decision was taken without their involvement.
"The decision also seems to fly in the face of public opinion and the opinion of business leaders throughout the city, who have recognised that Liverpool is central to the success of the Combined Authority.
"Just to put this into context, much of the agenda of today's meeting focussed on the Growth Plan for the City Region. The majority of strategic projects that sit within that are focussed on Liverpool and Sefton. The development of the port and Liverpool city centre are the main drivers for growth and jobs for the whole of the City Region.
"The Authority also discussed the potential benefits of HS2 – another opportunity centred on Liverpool city centre.
"The city has a strong track record of working with Government and with the leadership of the Mayor and the expertise of the team behind him, the whole of the City Region would have been able to benefit from this success."
A spokesperson for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said: "Yesterday was a landmark day for the Liverpool City Region as we set out the joint work that will lead to economic growth and jobs for the benefit of the whole of the Liverpool City region. Importantly, through the Combined Authority arrangements every Local Authority in the Liverpool City Region will have an equal say on the Board and a valuable contribution to make to this important agenda. This is something that all of the councils need to work on together and we very much welcome Liverpool and Sefton's contribution to that.
"The overall objective to bring more jobs and growth to the region is more important than any personality or individual authority.
"The process to elect the Chair and Vice Chair was carried out in line with the requirements of the Order at the commencement of the meeting. All members of the Constituent councils present at the meeting had a vote each – no Member had a casting vote and it is important to note that all members have an equal and valuable contribution to make. In other areas, the core city does not chair the Combined Authority. For example, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is chaired by the Leader at Wigan Council."
Below is the email to Liverpool Labour Group colleagues sent by Anderson, reproduced in full:
"Just to bring you up to date with what happened at the first meeting of the CA this morning. As you are all aware I have reported to you the fact that members of the City Region previously held caucus meetings in a clandestine way to decide who would chair the CA – when I confronted them they admitted to this. They said (and by they I mean Wirral, St Helens, Halton and Knowsley) that I was too big a personality and Liverpool was to strong and therefore they would oppose me being chair of the CA or Liverpool chairing the CA.
"Over the years, I have been a strong champion of closer working, and have personally brought together the city region leaders to bring us to this point. At no time had any of them raised any objections while I chaired the City Region Cabinet for the last four years as Leader and as Mayor. But in turn, I made it absolutely clear that I couldn't sign up to a position where I or any future Leader of Liverpool was barred from Chairing the CA. Sefton's Leader agrees with my stance and felt, like me, that it discriminated against what is the economic powerhouse of the City Region Liverpool. Incidentally Liverpool and Sefton together make up 49% of the population of the City Region.
"This morning a further debate once again took place prior the CA meeting to try and resolve the issue, it made no progress. Peter Dowd left the meeting frustrated and the meeting ended. I told the meeting I would try and bring Peter back. When we returned at 11.03am to the Chamber where the meeting was being held, we found that the meeting had started and had indeed elected its chair. Both myself and Peter felt this was totally disrespectful was an attempt to exclude us in their haste to get the vote through. Although clearly the vote would have been 4 to 2.
"I think the clear message that was sent out this morning (and the behaviour of Leaders) was not one I would have hoped for. In my view people are more interested in their own personal ambitions than that of the City Region and it was not the best start I would have hoped for. This is such a missed opportunity instead of thinking and behaving like Leaders of a big global City the City Region Leaders have engaged in a dysfunctional debate akin to toy town level politics and ambitions.
"I am considering options at the moment and seeking legal advice and will discuss this further at Full Council in two weeks, however my own view is I can't sign up to something which disadvantages our City. If you have any views I am happy to receive them."