Muscle in the City-Region

If you have half an hour to kill, get onto the Companies House website and check out the LCR Local Enterprise Partnership. This body has been overseeing government grants on Merseyside and Halton, of hundreds of millions of pounds for over twenty years, most intensively over recent times. It is classed as a development agency, but is listed as a private company, limited by guarantee. It was initiated by the Major government in 1992.

In those 26 years, this company – known familiarly as the LEP – at one time or another has had 90 directors, of whom about 15 have been local authority councillors. The latter have only ever been a token presence, always heavily outnumbered by the rest of the board who are mainly members of what I refer to as the local magistracy. They are appointed – never elected – on behalf of the local establishment although few are what we would normally describe as local. This group of people, responsible to no-one but themselves, make for interesting reading.

Their addresses are listed, ranging from Scotland to Bristol, and as far east as East Yorkshire. The bulk of them appear to live in leafy Cheshire, far removed from the LCR conurbation. Naturally, they include representatives of businesses with investments in the area like Peel and Stobart’s, and others represent business through various chambers of commerce. There is also a fair number of quangocrats and former civil servants.  Marianne Neville-Rolfe, for example, headed up the Government Office for London.

Even a chief constable and university vice-chancellors kept seats warm. Despite being elected by no-one, these worthies decided where investment would be made. Unsurprisingly, those on the board represented interests which were recipients of huge benefits through the LEP. It is true to say that democratically elected local representatives on the LEP board were mere window dressing. The real decisions were made by the local establishment.

This situation sums up what I consider to be at the root of the current political malaise at both a local and a national level. An illusion persists that power resides with our elected representatives; but it is an illusion, and explains why little seems to change with a change of government or of a council. Of course, we can all point to relatively minor adjustments made by new administrations. Worthy although they might be, they do not address the fundamental question of where power lies, as opposed to where it should lie. Hopefully, a younger generation are waking up to this and will demand the transfer of power to where it should reside – with the people and their elected representatives.

Our own local privileged minority has been well represented on the LEP and benefitted from it. They continue to do so. I wonder why our local political leaders continue to give it credibility when it seems to prioritise the interests of a clique who arrogantly ignore the ballot box, circumventing accountability behind the smokescreen of local authority participation.

Incidentally, the LEP staff is, if Mayor Anderson was to have his way, to metamorphose into a third incarnation, as the support staff for the Combined Authority and the new metro-mayor. This staff began life as the Merseyside Tourist Board before transforming into the LEP. Now, Mayor Anderson and his familiar, Ged Fitzgerald, propose that they take up this new role at an average salary of £100,000 pa under the leadership of ….Ged Fitzgerald!! Thank goodness Steve Rotheram has already forewarned that such arrangements would be unacceptable to him as metro-mayor.

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