Seeing the City Region as a ‘semi nation state’ is part of our offer. But Tom Maguire is already ahead of us!!
Strange times bring stranger activities. The severe difficulties which will affect our City Region must make make us all think again about how we work within the City Region. The Lib Dems were pleased to respond to a request from the Chair of the LCR Authority, Mayor Anderson, to work closely with the LCR in the short, medium and long term. We were pleased to accede to that request and attended a meeting with Labour leaders. As a result of that we have sent to the LCR Board a paper which outlines our thoughts on the way ahead. This does not mean that there will not be disagreements in future. It does not mean that we will not fight each other at election and oppose things within our councils. It does mean that wherever possible we will try and find ways of seeking compromise to move things forward.
Although small the Lib Dems are the biggest opposition party in the Liverpool City Region and are the only Party apart from Labour to be on all 6 councils. We will use that position to work purposefully on behalf of our constituents and the people of the LCR to try and develop paths to prosperity in these troubled times.
This is our offer to Labour which we hope to develop in coming weeks and months.
On 1st July four of the 6 Liberal Democrat Council Group Leaders from across the Liverpool City Region attended a private meeting of the City Region Board at the request of the Chair of the Board Joe Anderson, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool.
At that meeting we highlighted that there were two areas of concern BUT that we would be prepared to work with the controlling Labour Groups on both of them.
We emphasise that we are the only Party apart from Labour on all 6 authorities and whilst our numbers may be small we are accustomed to working with each other and can give a coherent and cohesive view on behalf of our Party to events as they unfold.
Brexit has made a desire to improve the standard and work of the Liverpool City Region into a necessity. We can no longer look to Westminster or Europe for the resources that are still needed to improve the standard of life for some many of our citizens. That is an imperative which has brought us to work with all Parties and other Groups of good faith to deal with Brexit Consequences. That does not mean that we will agree on everything either at LCR level or inside our own councils BUT it does mean that we will seek to minimise our differences on all issues which relate to BREXIT and the ongoing work of the LCR.
Short and Medium Term
In the short term we must come together to fight for resources from Westminster to replace those being taken away. We must work with Europe to see what can be salvaged from almost a £1 billion of capital and revenue programmes when other support inputs are costed on.
To do this effectively we must conduct a full audit of what the LCR gets from the EU. We know how much the public sector and quasi-public sector get largely because our councils are usually the organisations at the heart of pulling these complex, ‘cocktail’, bids together.
However organisations like the Universities have access to research and other funds that do not require our involvement.
Some small funds are available to voluntary and community groups.
The private sector can bid to the EIB for projects outside the purview of councils.
If necessary we must change the priorities for the money that we have available to meet gaps and fulfil different needs than originally envisaged. We must also work together to find alternative sources of finance from Trusts, Charities and the Private Sector to replace both capital and revenue funding. In particular we would welcome:
• A review of the prudential borrowing capacity of the 6 authorities and other parts of the public sector. Whilst critical of some of the investment choices made by the Liverpool Council the principle of using our borrowing power to borrow money cheaply and then lend on at a margin can be attractive.
• A review of the investment strategies of the Merseyside Pension Fund in the light of suggested government changes to their terms of reference.
• A renewed bid to examine local banking mechanisms such as Peer to Peer lending and the expansion of the MSIF.
Medium to Long Term
In the longer term we need to up our game to create a Liverpool Assembly which meets the needs of our people and businesses. We believe that the City Region bid to the Government was mediocre and only accepted because the Government wished to support the concept of mayors.
Liberal Democrats do not believe in the concept of mayors and have consistently opposed them both in the LCR and nationally. But we recognise that in the long term we must accept the reality and work out how to make the Mayoral system work both internally and externally.
We believe that we are in danger of creating another local government type structure which will appear to be an anaemic county council. We feel that if this is to work the LCR must become much more visible and accountable. The model which we would suggest adopting, in so far as we can, is the London Model where the Mayor is publicly held to account through an Assembly.
In terms of policy and actions we now need to:
• Develop a long term vision and strategy for the City Region which realistically reflects its strengths and opportunities. Some of this must be done quickly but all sectors must be involved in its creation if they are to commit to its delivery. The starting point for this would be the baseline survey and report produced by the Heseltine Institute.
• Deliver the strategy by bringing together from all sectors of the Community; business; public and academic sectors joint actions to work together in a way never yet achieved to future proof our City Region and prepare it for tough times ahead.
• Harness the strategic thinking of the 3 Universities of the Region to develop a new range of products, actions and services which will make our communities and our businesses fit for purpose in changing times.
In terms of the development of the LCR we now need to:
• Seek external advice as to our structures, methodologies and direction from people with a wider experience. We would particularly like to see the involvement of people like Lord Gus O’Donnell and Lord Bob Kerslake both former heads of the Civil Service with a wide understanding of regional, national and international activity.
• Bring in to the officer team supporting the City Region expertise from the Foreign and Business Departments of Central Government. We do not believe that the current officer structure is adequate. If we only seek staff from local government we will simply continue to be local rather than regional government. The head of the paid service needs to be someone of ‘Permanent Secretary’ level with usable contacts inside the system.
• Upgrade our office in London and create one in Brussels so that we can continue to create strong links with our major economic partners in places that will continue to affect us.
• Review the governance structures of the proposed City Region to enhance transparency and scrutiny and involve as many people as possible in key decisions about the Region’s Future. In particular we would recommend:
o The appointment of a representative of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Parties as none-voting members of the City Region Board.
o The development of the scrutiny role of the LCR into a proportionately representative assembly based on the number of councillors across the LCR held by the political parties which can meet publicly to hold the Mayor; Board Members with the sectoral responsibilities; officers and partners to account.
All 6 Liberal Democrat group leaders or their nominees will meet regularly to discuss and consider developments in terms of the City Region, its structures and activities.
We would welcome some help from the LCR Secretariat in arranging such meeting and delivery of relevant papers etc.
We will nominate the Group Leaders below to work with the Board on the key issues including public discussion of issues; private discussion of issues; representing the Party on delegations outside the LCR and meetings within the LCR to resolve the short medium and long term difficulties and opportunities outlined above.
Chris Rowe, Halton
Carl Cashman, Knowsley
Richard Kemp, Liverpool
Teresa Simms, St Helens
Sue Maguire, Sefton
Phil Gilchrist, Wirral
• Thematic responsibilities will be assigned when the LCR Board begins to allocate actions across the Region. In the meantime I will act as the link between the Chair of the City Region Board and the Liberal Democrats in the LCR
We would be pleased to discuss these issues either inside the LCR as a whole on the lines of the meeting held last Friday or to have individual meetings of political leadership groups inside our councils.
Cllr Richard Kemp CBE
On behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group Leaders of Halton, Sefton, Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton and Liverpool