Those of a nervous disposition should note that I am almost certain that Joe Anderson will agree with almost everything I say in this Blog!
The new Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has not got off to a good start. Discussion about its name and who chairs it have obscured the launch of what should be the most significant piece of the Greater Liverpool governance architecture to be completed for decades.
Leaving aside the precise boundaries which should be followed the Greater Liverpool conurbation is a place where local council boundaries have little meaning for the purposes of strategic investment, strategic planning, strategic transport and inward investment.
If a good job is created in Liverpool City Centre it might well be taken by someone living in one of the other 5 boroughs or even further afield. And vice versa. If we want to attract industry and commerce what Liverpool City can offer might not be suitable but the land or opportunities that are available in one of the other 5 Boroughs might be. If we want to attract government investment we need to show cohesion. A road or rail boundary does not stop at the boundary of a council or for that matter at the boundary of a city region.
As an example of this one of the transport priorities supported by the whole of the conurbation lies almost at its edge. Getting a second crossing of the Mersey at Runcorn is vital not only for Halton residents and businesses but also for South Knowsley and South Liverpool economic development and an additional route from the city for port traffic.
I think that there is general, if not unanimous agreement about this. So we just need to get on and deliver those opportunities.
What does the Combined Authority need to do? Just four things but four very complex things:
- It needs to articulate a vision for the conurbation based on a clear understanding of our strengths, weaknesses and heritage.
- It needs to prioritise the potential growth areas in terms of both geography and sector.
- It needs to convert those priorities into a realistic delivery plan which is shared by central and local government; central government; and the private sector.
- It needs to deliver that programme.
Fortunately we are not starting from scratch. There has been a Council Leaders meeting since the old county council was abolished in 1984. This was formalised into a City Region Board about 4 years ago. Work is already being undertaken on programme implementation using government funds received by both councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership. These funds are being augmented by the councils themselves; European Money and, most important of all, the private sector who invest their own cash in the opportunities which we inform them about and in some cases create.
To take this forward the City Region now needs to:
- Start a great debate about the future with:
- The people of the conurbation
- The councils of the conurbation because there has not been much explanation in most councils of what the City Region actually wants to achieve;
- The private sector both directly with appropriate industries and companies and through proxy bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce
- Our academic institutions
- Central Government
- European Government
- To develop much more transparent and open system of governance so that more people know more about what is being done both for them and in their name.
- To settle differences between leaders and ensure that lead responsibilities are assigned so that work and actions are not dependent on a share but taken forward by each authority.
- To establish a proactive scrutiny system which can do two things:
- Work alongside the Board to review potential activities and programmes
- Scrutinise the work of the Board to ensure that robust decision making is taking place.
The scrutiny role is, of course particularly important when the entire Board is composed of Leaders of just one political party. Lead responsibility for that should then rest with none Labour councillors.
As I said at the beginning I suspect that Mayor Anderson will agree with much of this. He and I have and will continue to have our differences on a range of internal Liverpool issues. BUT just as I supported his candidature for the leadership of this combined authority I support his ambition in trying to make the Authority work for all of us and all our futures. The world is a big place and we need to ‘big up’ in many ways to meet the challenges but also the possibilities that lie ahead. Together we can achieve, divided we will fail and fall.
I am sorry this is not as exciting as a written fisticuffs but sometimes the most important things have to be dealt with in a sober and constrained way. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!