The opposition of Liberal Democrats to the idea of an elected Mayor for our city is well known, long-term and consistent. We believe it to be a bad system that has shown few if any benefits where tried. It interferes with the position of Lord Mayor which is popular and divides political decision makers from the rest of the elected politicians in the city.
We also know that there is no clamour for such a position in our city. People by and large do not show much interest in constitution activity. They expect councillors to get on with the job of providing services that meet their need.
However we now need to debate this anew because of five factors:
1. The fact that we will sometime in the next 18 months be forced into a referendum on the issue because of the Localism Act.
2. There is now no possibility of any regional activity.
3. There is a growing understanding that city regions are an important ‘planning’ block fora range of strategic activities connected with infrastructure, land assembly, economic growth, transportation and inward investment.
4. Terry Leahy and Lord Heseltine have today given a report to the Government which it has commissioned which frame things in the context of the city region model.
5. The Government has issued a consultation paper about how this might work and particularly the extra powers that we would hope to receive.
If any idea for a Liverpool Mayor is to be ruled out we need to consider at referendum time whether we:
• Just oppose the idea; or
• Because it is taking place in the context of the new Localism Act whether we need to put up an option rather than just defend the status quo.
Liberal Democrats have long believed in devolved elected structures for the English Regions. We have also believed in the localist element of creating structures and forms of government which work for the particular circumstances in which an area finds itself. Local government does not need to have the same form and structure everywhere.
Liverpool has a particular part to play in any discussion because from any aspect that can be considered it is not just a council in its own right but the heart of a conurbation. What Liverpool does already affects people across Merseyside more than any action from one of the other councils affects what happens in Liverpool.
People do not feel constrained by our current boundaries, jobs, housing, recreation and other markets all operate across council boundaries. Many internal boundaries within Merseyside are entirely artificial. Where does Liverpool Dovecot end and Knowsley page Moss begin? A good job created in Knowsley will be filled by people applying from throughout Merseyside and beyond. In fact there are about 100,000 jobs in central Liverpool with 50,000 of them being filled by people who reside outside our boundaries.
Nor is there agreement about where the external Boundaries of Merseyside are. Since Sefton council was formed many in Southport have wanted out – whilst since its formation as a unitary council the Borough of Halton has wanted in. This note does not try to resolve such matters which are rightly the subject of local determination by the people of those areas.
However there is undoubtedly a geographic conurbation which must and indeed does work together strategically. The question is two fold.
• Does the current structure work of a city region cabinet work effectively and transparently?
• Would the Government release more powers to it or an organisation with a clear direct mandate?
By and large Liberal Democrats do not believe that the right question is one of more powers but enhanced legitimacy. New powers are being granted to all levels of local government by provisions of the Localism Bill which is shortly to receive Royal Assent. The key question is would a new body or person be more or less likely to be listened to and engaged by:
• The Government
• Other public sector partners
• The Business Community at home
• The Business Community internationally
• Local People on key issues
In essence we believe that if created a pan Merseyside body would replace the secretive city region cabinet and become the public sector partner for the Local Enterprise Partnership. It would take strategic responsibility for the Police; Fire; Waste and Transport authorities whose managements would be merged into a new corporate structure with a consequent saving in costs.
There is little objective evidence about the effectiveness of the city region cabinet but it certainly is not transparent or accountable to local people. It appears to make a range of decisions that are ultimately carried out by the local councils although they have a Merseyside impact. No democratic decisions are discussed with the people of Merseyside and no account back to the people of Merseyside by this pan Merseyside body.
Discussions with government suggest that they are prepared to support any local governance proposals which has clear local support and that they are far more likely to support an elected and transparent body that a secret un-elected one.
There are a number of ways that a pan Merseyside governance could be achieved:
1. Recreate a slimmed down version of the old Merseyside County Council
2. Create a full London model with a mayor and a scrutiny assembly in which all 33 unitary councils stay in place
3. Create a part London model with a mayor but in which scrutiny is carried out by members of the continuing 5/6 councils.
There could be others which are worth looking at.
We should also seek to grasp the nettle of naming. Internationally Merseyside is a brand that carries no resonance despite the many millions of pounds that have been spent promoting it over almost 40 years. For all overseas activity the brand of Liverpool is strong and the concept of ‘Greater Liverpool’ should be the one that is used to support all inward investment activity.
The purpose of this note is not to decide a policy but to frame a debate. Liberal Democrats believe that it is important that this debate is held not just by us but by all organisations in Merseyside and the people of Merseyside.
The Key Questions that need answering
1. Are there now grounds for supporting a Liverpool Elected Mayor?
2. If so what, if any, new powers, does the Mayor need to have and from where are those powers taken?
3. Irrespective of the Mayoral issue in Liverpool does the ‘conurbation of Merseyside’ need a level of decision making that is open, transparent and forceful?
4. How should that pan-Merseyside system of government be constructed?
5. Should we clearly and overtly market the attractions of the conurbation on a Greater Liverpool basis with appropriate sub Merseyside support for specific local activities such as Open Golf tournaments?
Tell Us what You Think
We would be pleased to come and discuss these or other issues with your organisation. You can leave your views on-line at email@example.com or you can write to us at 75, Canterbury Street, Garston L19 LQ
Cllr Paula Keaveney Cllr Richard Kemp CBE
Leader, Liverpool Lib Dems Deputy Leader, Liverpool Lib Dems
This document can be found at http://www.liverlibdems.org