If you think we have had all the elections that we need then you are doomed to disappointment! On May 7th we will have no less than 4 elections on the same day. We will elect a Liverpool City Region Mayor; a Merseyside Police Commissioner; a Liverpool City Mayor and 30 City Councillors. Or at least some of us will. The turn out in Liverpool elections hovers around 30%. I suspect that it will be even less this May given the revulsion that Liverpool have to this plethora of elected officials. At least you know who these people are.
At the same time, we have another plethora of unelected decision makers who spend vast amounts of public money either directly or indirectly through the reallocation of benefits such as housing. Most people have no idea who is on the Boards of NHS Trusts or Housing Associations or Universities or how to contact them. They certainly have no possibility of getting rid of them if they don’t like the decisions that have been made.
I raise this issue at an early stage in these discussions because we need to make clear that the Council, although by far the most visible part of the public sector, has only very limited powers and budgets. We represent everyone but our mandate is limited by the splintered and secretive nature of the decision-making process.
To run our City properly we need to have all parts of the public sector running to one overall vision and merging their budgets and actions behind one overall locally determined plan. That means the Council and its leadership providing much more visible leadership and direction.
We must start with the elected sector. The City Region Mayor has been a great disappointment. He has become a mini-me of the Manchester City Region Mayor. He has created a vast empire of staff but even people in the system such as me would be hard put to say what leadership has been given to the City Region and what directions have been created. The City Mayor is much more visible but is, we believe, an appointment too far. The Elected Police Commissioner is a total waste of time.
We will bring forward proposals for a detailed pruning of positions and staff, some of which we can do ourselves and some of which we will press for Government action on.
So, what do we as Lib Dems want all those boards, quangocrats and staff and their budgets to do?
We want to build on our past to create a City that is wealthy and where the wealth is shared; that is environmentally sustainable in so far as a city can be environmentally sustainable; that is green with a strong emphasis on public open spaces; which is healthy with a reduction in health inequality within the City; which provides a lifelong learning system that provides an education which adds value to people’s lives both in terms of employment and leisure; which provides housing that both meets basic needs of all our citizens and their aspiration; which is clean with people being proud of their neighbourhoods; where people can live all their lives whatever their care needs in supportive communities; and finally where people feel safe in their own homes and their own streets.
So far so good. I suspect that there would be few people in Liverpool who would have much disagreement with anything that I have suggested here. The difference between us and the Labour Party, and there are really only two Parties in Liverpool, is that we have an approach which we call, “Where top-down meets bottom-up”.
Our City is not one amorphous mass but in many ways is a series of villages or neighbourhoods. Some of those villages such as Woolton or Everton are obvious. Places which have built up a sense of identity over decades and centuries. Places to which people feel a sense of belonging and which they are loyal to. However, there is far too much diversity between these neighbourhoods. In fact, there is one stark difference, the length of time that we live, with about a 10+ year difference in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between these two areas.
All our ‘villages’ must, in time become more equal by raising up the standards of the most deprived. This is not a new aspiration but one that has been an aspiration since the war. But it is an aspiration which has been approached largely through a top down approach with an imposition of ideas and actions from the Centre.
To realise our ambitions, we need to get an enhanced Inclusive Growth Plan and Local Development Framework agreed by the Council and combine them into a coherent forward plan for the City which takes us through the next 20 years.
We need to get local support from all the organs of state in the City to these plans. We then need to present them to the Tory Government to get their acquiescence to the Council taking the lead on all activities within the City. Of course, we want more money for the City but failing that we want more control to bring together all the local budgets.
Whatever we do things are going to be difficult in Liverpool over the next few years. Only by coming together and standing together can we hope to minimise the damage to our City and maximise the opportunities that we have.
Over the next few weeks Liverpool Liberal Democrats will be issuing a series of draft discussion documents inviting Liverpool people and organisations to share with us both their ideas and their opinions of ours. Lib Dems do not have all the answers to the City’s problems – no-one does. We do hope that our approach will put in place the deep partnership that our City needs.