Rotheram: "These awards are supporting key priorities"

Rotheram: We need to put aside tribal differences

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

As Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram settles into his office at No1 Mann Island, he talks to Place North West about “big-ticket plans”, devolution, competing with Manchester, and ensuring the North gets a fair deal.

While Saturday marks 100 days since the Metro Mayors took office, Rotheram didn’t officially take up his duties until purdah ended after the General Election. His first weeks have seen him focus on recruiting members of staff into the organisation, and securing input from senior advisers, such as economist Lord Jim O’Neill.

While Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor Andy Burnham walked into an office with 300 staff, Rotheram had “considerably less”.

“Andy has walked into something that was designed not by him and we can design ours. It will be interesting to see which one, in the coming years, bears the most fruit,” Rotheram says.

“I think that we’ve got a fantastic opportunity to get some talent in from far and wide, and not from just the usual suspects, so we’re looking at this as a massive opportunity rather than as a threat and we haven’t missed any of the deadlines. Anything that we were expected to have hit by Government, we have done.”

Cross-border working

Rotheram’s remit spreads across the six local authorities which make up the City Region; Liverpool, Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, and Wirral. How has he found working with the different councils?

“A lot of good work had been done prior to my election and there had been two former Chairs of the Combined Authority, so we weren’t starting from a blank sheet of paper. People had already got used to trying to work more collaboratively, so all that we’re doing is trying to put rocket boosters under that so we can get to where we need to get to as quickly as we possibly can.”

Rotheram’s “transformational” plans for the City Region is headed by two big-ticket projects; high speed digital connectivity, and dusting off proposals for a River Mersey tidal barrage, first mooted in 1982.

“We can do something as six that no one single local authority can do. We need to start knitting together the infrastructure advantages we have in our City Region.

“Lots of international globally respected organisations are talking about becoming carbon neutral, and big data takes big energy. If we can provide them with clean, green predictable renewable energy then that could be our game changer.”

With cuts to Northern transport projects recently making headlines, Rotheram is keen to emphasise the importance of speaking with one voice across the North when lobbying Government, to fight for a fair deal.

“The next stage is to put aside the tribal differences between Liverpool and Manchester, and get Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester City Regions working much more collaboratively for national infrastructure projects, so when we’re going to London to try and fight our corner, it’s no longer just Liverpool, it’s the 1.5 million people here and the 2.4 million people in Greater Manchester.

“If we’re to see George Osborne’s dream of a Northern Powerhouse come to fruition, we all have to work harder across that Northern corridor to see the opportunities to work together, rather than to fight each other for the crumbs off the table, when the South are getting £6 for every £1 that we get up here.”

Time for impetus

Rotheram describes himself as “politically impatient”, and attributes that to why ditched his role as MP for Walton to go for the Metro Mayor job.

“I want change all the time and the glacial pace of what happens in Westminster was one of the reasons the role of Metro Mayor was very attractive, as a way to try to give some impetus.”

However, despite that impatience Rotheram is taking a diplomatic approach to the Metro Mayor role, perhaps positioning himself as a counterpoint to the outspoken Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who is not known for pulling punches when it comes to his criticism of the Conservative Government.

While Rotheram won’t comment on Anderson’s style of leadership, he is quick to point out that he will still “call the Government out when they’re not doing things and we have done already, over what’s happened in New Ferry for instance”.

“However, we need to work with the Government wherever possible to get the opportunities for funding which will help us transform our economic fortunes. I can’t continually berate the Government on one hand, and then say ‘you’ve given us this devolution deal, which includes the opportunity to harness the power of the River Mersey, but we need some help and funding to do it, please?’

“My approach will be to try and do as much as we possibly can behind the scenes, before we have to resort to megaphone diplomacy.”

From frameworks to focus 

Rotheram has brought figures such as Jim O’Neill on board partly to work through the overwhelming suite of documents that Liverpool City Region has been using to guide its economic plans; the State of the City Region Report, the Regional Growth Strategy, Building Our Futures Together, a Strategic Investment Framework, and recent work around a Strategic Investment Fund.

Rotheram admits that the previous approach “may have been a bit scattergun”.

“We want to be all things to all men and women, and we can’t. Sometimes you need to focus, and ensure that strategically we’re getting things right.”

At a time of national uncertainty in the face of Brexit, Rotheram concedes that his plan has to factor in flexibility. “We need to be able to respond to what’s coming round the corner.”

While admitting that he remains “a committed pro-European”, Rotheram’s focus is now on “representing the views of 1.5 million people and looking at the opportunities after Brexit”.

“Given where we are, we’re a port city, outwardly facing, we’re historic in trans-Atlantic trade links, so there could be opportunities and new markets that open up to us.”

The next stage also involves reopening negotiations with central Government, to secure more autonomy for the City Region.

“Devolution is a journey, so the bit we’ve got now is not the destination; we’ll continue to organically grow and we need to start negotiations with Government to see what comes next. A lot of that will be predicated on how successful we are at delivering what we’ve currently got and, believe me, we will be absolutely successful.”

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Good luck to him. I like the idea of a GM/Merseyside combined approach. Such a shame that West and South Yorkshire are lagging behind, because the four connecting conurbations would have been an effective counterbalance to the prejudice of Westminster towards Britain’s other large cities.It is time Leeds and Sheffield got their act together.

By Elephant

I would like to see him become more high profile and projecting the LCR in a postive light. He needs all the luck he can get and support from other leader’s in the LCR, lets hope he can achieve it.

By Liverpolitis

Two big ones for me –
1) drive the commercial city centre property market, focussed on new office development in the PallMall area thus attracting the best of new job opportunities
2) get rid of Joe Anderson – an absolute farcical character to be representing such a great city. He lacks professionalism and would be much more suited to a fruit n veg store in Old Swan

By CMW

We never get fair treatment with or without Manchester. If Liverpool and Manchester become combined, I will leave Liverpool.

By Blue Liver bird

Blue Liver bird’s comment shows why the North does not prosper. Banter between the cities is fine, but this parochialism is why we are a laughing stock down south.Scouse versus Manc, Red Rose versus white. Altrincham desperate to be part of Cheshire, Bolton wanting to cling on to Lancashire. We can do all of these things and retain our heritage, but 10 million people working together can do a lot more than 4 smaller conurbations.

By Elephant

Rotherham seems to be a pro-active, can see the big picture type of guy which is great for this type of job but I’m afraid that he’s way off mark by saying that Greater Manc ‘s population is only 2.4 million. It’s actually over 3 million. Having worked in Recruitment for many years, I came across hundreds, if not thousands of people who had entered the country on false passports or people on fixed term holiday/student/work visas not returning home etc. There are millions of people living incognito in the U.K., working on the ‘black’ market & not included in any database. I read recently that the big supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Tesco formulate out their own detailed national population projections & Sainsbury said that the UK Popn. was around the 70 million mark, whereas Tesco said that the true figure of people residing in the UK is just over 80 million. The Popn. of Manchester City Council is skyrocketing at present. I read on this site that Manc’s projected building of residential units up to 2020 is 2.5 times more than Birmingham City Council & more than 10 times that of Leeds City Council, an estimated 7,000 units (the vast majority being flats/apartments) !!!

By Anthony Fallon

Bring it on..I believe we ARE stronger together and need to get rid of the old wood who whinge on about a Liverpool-Manchester rivalry…We are already almost merging around Warrington…

By Schwyz

But it isn’t MILLIONS of people working together, is it? It’s tiny groups of Politicians/Councillors and Developers, the ‘money men’, not people, that are working together! I’m repeating myself, we, the citizens, are not passive bystanders….please point out to me any attempt to rally a city, anywhere, in the North? A very small, non diverse group of political insiders with such lack of vision, dreams and always, the complete lack of Political Will will never make either this Government concede, nor millions of people to work together. We love and live in our cities, they have to be OUR hometowns, they have to be for the many not the few, they have to be sustainable, they have to represent an open, welcoming and safe environment for the majority, so if we don’t have strong local neigbourhoods who feel part of our cities, you must excite and involve us all, start speaking to us, not just business, widen your vision please.

By Cathy Wilson

@AFallon, I am sure too that Liverpool’s population is well under estimated. Just by the numbers of enquries we deal with for people from outside the region and country wishing to live here and set up businesses.
A good indication is the demand for schools and housing
I attended a meeting in Liverpool Town Hall not so long ago, they were quoting old figures from a previous census for the population and zero growth? This was for housing provision for the future. No wonder a lot of people have lost faith in them.
So I really hope Steve can create a better environmental and a more realistic agenda.

By Man on Bicycle

Our second tier cities in this country are far too small.This has been deliberately orchestrated by Westminster to keep London dominant.This is why the wider conurbations need city status and Merseyside and GM are both good examples of how this should work.It is ridiculous that Birmingham the second largest city has about 7 million people less than London. How can any of us compete with the capital,whilst we are stalled from growing?

By Elephant

Surprisingly agree with Elephant; as soon as many of our MPs get to Westminster they too bow to the Great god the South East and London. There are 577 MPs that don’t represent London, yet the continued development of the SE outweighs anything in any part of the country; …..democracy? That is the way the MPs are told to deliver……… so Rotherham, Burnham, and Birmingham will all swing with the wind………….it was ever so!
LCR needs to include the Ellesmere Port region and West Lancashire, as a minimum. Never happen!

By Billy

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