I have now been a party member for 44 years. In that time I have enjoyed elation and disappointment. There have been policies I have massively agreed with and some that set me to shaking my head in despair.
Today however, is definitely an ‘up day’. Our leader, the Deputy Prime Minister has announced yet another roll back of theWhitehallcentred bureaucracy which has held backLiverpooland so many other cities for so long.
No longer will we have to go on bended knee toWhitehallfor permission to do this or that. Many, but not all, of the financial restrictions placed on us will be swept away.
Some believe that we can only get these powers if we move to an elected mayor. This is not true. The speech from Nick makes clear that we will have to review our governance to ensure that we are for receiving the new powers but contains no proscription about how that should be done. Clearly part of the coalition government likes the mayoral option – but our part doesn’t.
What this does flush into the open is a major need for a debate on the issue of the governance of the conurbation. Nick says why not a Transport for Liverpool in the same way as we have Transport forLondon. The fact is, of course that Transport forLondoncovers the whole of the conurbation of 33 councils. It is not Transport for Newham, Croydon orWestminster. That means we need to look afresh at how we do things across the Merseyside area.
We currently have a City Region Executive. We don’t really know what it does; it is clearly not transparent or accountable to local people but presumably wields power. The Merseyside wide bodies have different abilities and strengths. Fire has always had strong and responsive political leadership whilst the political leadership of the Transport Authority has always been dire. Hence abortive schemes for Trams and owning the Merseyside rail tracks.
Liverpool Lib Dems have already floated an options paper about this which is available at www.liverlibdems.org.uk. No other party has been prepared to discuss this in the open way that we have been prepared to.
I also welcome this new allocation of powers as chair of a housing association. Decisions about spending priorities will no longer be made by a remote quango but by the council in consultation and partnership with its delivery agents. That is entirely right. The only organisation inLiverpoolwith a mandate is the council. I may (and do) regret the people to who the mandate ahs been given but I would prefer the Labour Party in Liverpool to be the decision makers for capital spending and not faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall making often ill informed decisions.
I also welcome the return of the business rate to the council. Nick Clegg makes it absolutely clear that he understands that councils in poorer areas will need to be sheltered from these changes BUT and it’s a big, big BUT we will be able to keep cash given to us that we generate by growth. If that had happened over the previous 10 years we would have had a bigger uplift in spend than we got from increased handouts fromWhitehall. With ambitious proposals from Peel Holdings amongst others Liverpool can only benefit from this freeing up of a key resource.
I also welcome the news about apprentice hubs. The Council has tried to ‘big up’ the apprentice work that they have done although they have yet to take on any apprentices externally themselves. This will create the mechanism by which an ‘exchange’ can be created between employers and the public sector which will increase the number of places available.
Of course I may have some concerns about the detail. I will, as always, make such concerns crystal clear. But in terms of direction and ambition I am very proud to be a Lib Dem today