Last thoughts from the United Nations

I am currently sitting in the back of the Habitat 3 Committee listening to colleagues from local government and national government making speeches about the new UN programme which will kick in during 2016. As I have remarked before it is fascinating to consider the parallels between our theoretical discussions here and what is happening at this moment bak home in the UK.

At home a vote is taking place which might mean that for my remaining visits to foreign parts this year I might be representing the Disunited Kingdom. But whatever happens the genie of decentralisation and devolution has been let out of the bottle. The Leaders of the three main parties cannot make generous offers of new powers to Scotland because it will enable better government and governance and pretend that the same would not happen power was devolved in England. Indeed both Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband have already said that their will be manifesto commitments to that end.

Yesterday I argued in a plenary session that the tide of decentralisation was already being to flood. Governments throughout the World have realised that they cannot micro-manage their Countries from their Capital using a cadre of civil servants. That is what they have been doing for the past 150 years but the results have been at best patchy and in some cases negative.

In the UK the Labour Government between 1997 and 2010 borrowed vast amounts of money to second on regeneration and projects but most of it didn’t work. In 1999 they identified 3000 areas which were the poorest in the Country and had the most problems. For obvious reasons they did not name those areas but my guess is that if they had we could revisit those areas and find that 2970 of them would still be in that category.

Whilst putting money in Labour let power slip away to the South. Not only did the public sector become more centralised but so did the private secor. True the private sector did not impose 1,000 key indicators on councils but more corporate HQs went South and Labour’s stoking up of the banking sector caused a major imbalance in the Country’s economy. Our money and our hopes all went South!

I believe not in an independent Liverpool as a nation state. Nation states are themselves becoming or irrelevant with companies like Microsoft not only having a bigger ‘GDP’ than many countries but also far more influence on the day to day lifestyles of people throughout the world. What we need to do is what works at different levels. Of course we need nation states but only for some functions. Of course we need parish councils but only for some functions. Between those two extremes we need a changed structure to deliver appropriate solutions.

My local preference is for a City Region with real poŵers. Our population is the same as that of Northern Ireland our GDP is greater. We could make mall the decisions we need in the fields of structure planning, transport economic development, tourism, culture, police, fire, inward investment education up to 18 and primary health card. Our councils would still deliver what they do today. This is not a suggestion that would take power from them but power from Whitehall and Westminster.

It would be governed by a ‘Parliament’ chosen on a proportional basis by direct elections from the people of the area. Manifestos would force a debate on what the Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of our area. Just as in Scotland people would decide for themselves their own future but would do so recognising that Liverpool City Region is part of a bigger whole. Yes we would for some things need to work with Cheshire or Manchester or Flintshire. Yes the Westminster Government would control some big functions although we might be ale to influence them more in our areas. They would also, of course, deal with foreign affairs, defence and international development. The only army we want to send abroad is the one that supports the might reds on a winning streak in Europe!

Being in New York has enabled me to press Liverpool’s case in the UN. O. Two occasions I have used powerful images of our lovely city to talk about what can be achieved by powerful and thoughtful leaders like Mike Storey. That has enabled to go to the main session yesterday and argue for more power for Councillors and their councils world-wide.

In an hour I set off for home. It’s been great being here. However, when you come from the greatest city in the World with the most beautiful Lord Mayor you just want to get home.

This is my last letter from America! I will return to my usual hobby horses next week!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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