I was going to do a blog here about how to control the powers of an elected mayor – even me! However a better story has come up which is why most of this blog is a letter from former Labour Minister Peter Kilfoytle to the Liverpool Echo. I agree with about 95% of what he says which is more than my Labour opponent for the mayoralty will.
Peter speaks for many Labour members who have edged up to me in a conspiratorial way to say, “Well frankly Richard I don’t agree but…..” At least Peter, who I respect as a good socialist with a real compassion for our city, has the guts to stand up for good old fashioned values such as democracy and the separation of powers.
What do you think?
Who will hold power?
THE increasing concentration of power into fewer hands here on Merseyside needs wider consideration. So many of the key issues are confused in people’s minds. A good example is the elected mayor for Liverpool.
Too many still think it is the election of the Lord Mayor – a largely ceremonial role. It isn’t. It replaces the job of council leader, with added powers. We are to have an elected mayor for at least 25 years, unless a new government enacts primary legislation to change things. The citizens of Liverpool can do nothing to remove the mayoralty in that time.
There is also confusion over extra resources. The council tells us that the imposition of a mayoralty without a referendum will bring an extra £130m. Yet, in Parliament, the responsible minister said that “no city deal, including Liverpool’s proposal, is contingent on having an elected mayor”. They cannot both be right. We must hope that we have not bought a pig in a poke, and beware of the government bearing gifts.
A third puzzle is whether or not an elected mayor can remain leader of his or her group on the council. There appears to be a fundamental conflict of interests here. Under the new arrangements, councillors should monitor the elected mayor. However, that same mayor may lead their political group, and say who gets what job!
Obviously, there is much here to chew on; but this is a concentration of political power. There is a parallel consolidation of economic power illustrated by the rise and rise of Peel Holdings headed up by Isle of Man-based John Whittaker.
When Peel took over Liverpool Airport, it began a period of expansion for a previously underrated local resource. Next, Peel took over the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, giving it a virtual monopoly on the banks of the Mersey.
When the government set up the Local Enterprise Partnership to determine Merseyside’s economic strategy, a Peel representative was put on a board heavily dominated by businessmen. Then, another Peel executive was added to the LEP as chairman – Manchester-based Robert Hough.
Peel itself set up two massive development areas, dominating Wirral and Liverpool. These include plans for the equivalent of 140 tower blocks of flats in its Liverpool development alone. Given the huge number of empty flats already in the city, these plans seem an extraordinarily confident view of Liverpool’s future population expansion.
Enterprise Zone status has been given by government to Peel’s sites. That means huge tax breaks, funded by the taxpayer. However, Peel’s plans stretch ahead for decades – who knows what will be the case in 40 years time? The question is: what happens when its ownership is passed or sold on? Those decisions are not those of Merseysiders but of big money people based in London or overseas.
What price, then, is accountability – and to whom?