In Jinja, at a meeting of Cities Alliance, I argued that politicians needed to take a long-term approach to the development of their Cities
As readers of this blog know I have been out of Liverpool for the past 13 days. These days have led me to 4 overnight plane journeys of 20hours + and a number of hairy moments particularly on the main road between Kampala and Jinja.
The two events that I have been at, however, have for me been absolutely exhilarating. Let me quickly point out that they have not cost Liverpool or UK taxpayers a penny! There has been a great reception for the work of World Merit, the global charity based in Liverpool which I now chair. World Merit has been well received by Councils and their local government associations around the world. I have no doubt that we will soon conclude a number of activities with councils especially those in Africa where we are hoping to make a major contribution to Afro-Cities, a huge programme for pan-African cities which will take place in Marrakesh next December.
If you haven’t heard about World Merit before you can find out more at www.worldmerit.org. If you are young sign up to our activities. If you are not let young people know about us!!
I have also, of course, been able to talk about Liverpool to many people. In Uganda in particular I was able to address organisations like the UN and talk about the successes and the continuing challenges of our City. I have been working on some issues with the Local Government Minister for Ghana and he has asked me to make a proposal to bring some Ghanaian Mayors to our City. It will be a privilege to do so especially because of the strong links between our City and many parts of West Africa including having a strong Ghanaian population the City.
I have learned a lot from some of the world’s greatest experts in long-term thinking about the role of local government in shaping the destinies of the citizens that we represent. There were four things that really stand out. Both the United Cities and Local Government World Council in Hangzhou and the Cities Alliance General assembly in Jinja made clear that there were key elements that were a prerequisite for the long-term development of our areas:
Firstly, we need to decentralise decision making. There can be no doubt that every council suffers from central governments that try to apply national solutions to local programmes. AND there can be no doubt that Capitals get far more than their fair share of resources. We can see that acutely in the UK where Crossrail 2 in London and the South East will take precedence over our equivalent of Crossrail 1 – the west Coast/East Coast link. There is not a single example of Westminster Government spending which does not place more than its fair share of money in to spending in to London and the South-East.
This expenditure is doomed to failure. More money attracts more people which need more money. Travelling times in capitals globally are becoming unsustainable and bloated asset values, especially for housing and land are consuming much of the GDP of entire nations.
Secondly, we need to improve the quality of the decision makers both politicians and officers. This can be seen acutely in Liverpool. The Region remains in a second-rate position to Manchester because of the low standards of our politicians and the poor quality of many of our technicians. Politically the potential of the City Region Mayoralty is held back by the continued squabbling and back biting of the 6 male leaders on the Combined Authority. They conspired to create a weak settlement for the City Region and continue to hold it back. The Women’s Leadership Group is right – we badly need more women in leadership positions.
We can see in Liverpool the need to either boost our officer cadre or bring in to the system hired help from time to time. Our officers have allowed us to blunder into mess ups such as St john’s Market; the sale of land to developers with a mixed track record; and the ill-fated ‘Hope & Glory Festival. We do have some star performers. Becky Hellard our Director of Resources has kept us on a clear financial path despite the heavy problems which we have faced. Others in Liverpool and elsewhere are not up to her high standards.
Thirdly, we need to think far more long-term than we do. The problems of Liverpool are not new ones. Liverpool started to decline shortly after World War One a decline which accelerated after World War 2. What is the response of our Labour politicians? Well we can all recall that in 2016 Mayor Anderson didn’t even produce a manifesto. He has given us not a single clue about our City’s future over the 20 years’ time scale we need to be planning for.
This incompetence can best be seen in our abject failure to produce a Local Development Framework. This long-term structure plan should have been completed years ago. Instead it has drifted so badly that the Government are now threatening to intervene to ensure that one is produced. Perhaps this is deliberate as our failure to have a development framework means that developers can wipe the floor with us and get what they want and not what the people of the City need.
Lastly, we need to be far better at involving the people of our communities in developing both short-term and long-term planning. This is not Labour’s City or the Lib Dems’ City. The political parties that control the council at any one time are only trustees for the City. The City itself belongs to the people. Consultation with people is dire. Labour thinks that consultation is about asking people what they think of decisions that have already been made. This is why the people are angry about a whole range of issues including the sale of green spaces and now the spending of £93,000 a year on a new Pravda for the Council parroting Labour actions because the Labour Party cannot get its own message out.
These things are not new ideas. They were all ideas that the Lib Dems pursued when we controlled the Council and which we will do when we control the Council again. The short-termism of Liverpool’s Labour leadership is holding our City back. But people can begin to fight back next May when one third of the Council up for re-election. Our aim is to create a strong bloc of Lib Dem councillors who can hold this dreadful Labour administration to account. All the signs are that the people of Liverpool will support us in this intent.