Carl and some of his team who will be taking on Jeremy Corbyn’s bag carrier next May
So a great triumph is being proclaimed today. Today we got the first instalment of our City Deal money – £1billion apparently. Actually it’s not its £30 million. The first instalment of 30 similar sums on the basis of £30 million per year. That actually comes to £900 million!
Let’s put that in context. There are 1,750,000 people in the city region so the grand handout is equivalent to less than £20 a year each! Compare that with the £90 million that Liverpool Council alone will lose from its central government grants.
When the City Deal was debated in council last year the Lib Dems made clear that we thought it a puny little deal which was only worth supporting because it is a first baby step to getting something worthwhile. As I have discussed in an earlier blog I could only look on with envy as I listened to the story of what Manchester City Region are achieving in the health field alone. Top quality staff brought in from central government to lead the work. Full control of £4.5 billion a year budget for health and an initial support grant of £450 million to transform the service; to cut out waste and more importantly ensure proactive health work to stop people becoming ill as distinct to merely coming in at the end of the process to make people better.
As we now look at the work being done to prepare for the creation of the new Liverpool City Region Mayor next year we find it is of low aspiration and low standard. On the one hand the lack of political vision is appalling. Only our candidate, Carl Cashman is coming up with some really exciting stuff looking at the leadership role of the City Region. Labour seem transfixed on small things. For some reasons their candidate seems to think that they will run the parks with some of the green space commitments that they have made. He also has related the staffing levels of the Combined Authority to the £30,000,000 budget. Of course that is nonsense. The Authority will have more powers and certainly more influence than in the spending of such a modest sum. I don’t think that the Tories have yet selected a candidate but as the third Party in the City Region they are irrelevant.
But it’s not only the policies that are clearly unexciting it’s the whole approach. The scrutiny system being suggested whereby the Mayor and the Authority can be challenged is dreadful. A tedious, small committee controlled largely at present by one party. There are no guarantees of an independent staffing and research budgets so that it can adequately carry out its role of appropriately challenging the political and managerial leadership.
So what we are going to get is a Mark II County Council. Staffed by local government worthies without the power to challenge to bureaucrats in London and with politicians without the vision or clout to make a difference. BUT it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s start by looking at the public side of the Mayoral/Authority model.
Lib Dems throughout the City Region have called for a ‘London Assembly’ style model that will publicly hold, the Mayor, the Authority and senior staff to account in a way. A regular open forum looking at all areas of combined region activity is essential if people are to be aware of what could be a very remote and closed-shop body. We need to hold the leadership of this body to account in a very clear way. Good, independent and open scrutiny is a vital part of good decision making. Knowing that you are going to be held to account means that better, more thought through and more coordinated policies are put forward in the first instance.
We have also unitedly called for the Authority to be more visionary and aggressive in its work. We are not suggesting that they should do things that are unlawful. Far from it. Liverpool has suffered too much from that sort of behaviour from the Labour Party in the past. What we want the new Mayor and Authority to do is think big. The Liverpool City Region has 1.75 million residents. It has a huge GDP, 3 Unis, a Super port, a fast growing Airport and a skilled workforce. That is what it needs to tell the World about.
I am delighted that Cllr Cashman understands all this and will be actively promoting these think big ideas. He is already putting together a manifesto that will ensure that Liverpool is once again an outgoing city looking for business in the World. Both a Trump Presidency and Brexit create a huge number of problems for the LCR but as with any change they also present opportunities for the quick thinking and the fleet of foot! Liverpool has one of the best ‘brand names’ in the World. Having represented the UK on the international scene for 10 years I know that vibrancy and potential connected with the international view of us.
Let’s take post Trump America. I think that there will be lots of footloose companies wishing to escape from Trump and all he stands for. These companies will be overwhelmingly in the new technologies and new thought processes. Where better for such a company to come than to a city which speaks English (well almost!), which is the nearest access point to America and has traditionally fulfilled that role; which has high quality Educational establishments; which has a thriving culture and cheap housing. We need to be out there selling the opportunities now. The Authority and Mayor should not be looking inward but outward at these and all the opportunities that are available to us.
On a smaller point I am pleased that Cllr Cashman has taken up the cudgels alongside us to get rid of the position of elected Mayor in Liverpool City. Three Mayors is just one too many. We can save £500,000 by abolishing the position of Liverpool Mayor and will still have a political leader and a Lord Mayor (and 5 others) to do the hand shaking and the flag waving to visitors as we attract them to our area for investment, tourism and education.
I look forward to the launch of Cllr Cashman’s manifesto for change in the New Year. I hope that Labour will manage to produce a manifesto for this year in good time (in last years Liverpool Mayoral election Labour produced no manifesto just a ragbag of ideas hours before voting opened). I am sure that will really show up my assertion that the election will be a contest between Jeremy Corbyn’s bag carrier and Carl Cashman’s youthful freshness and initiative.
Can I ask everyone to do something to help the debate? In last year’s mayoral election there was only one public hustings meeting at which people could hold the candidates to account. There was a debate on Radio Merseyside and individual interviews on CityTalk. We need far more challenge than that. Will your church, residents association; campaign group, amenity group, school help the democratic process by setting up hustings meetings and other challenges within and for your community? That would really help focus people’s ideas on this election which otherwise I am sure will have a very, very low turnout.