Immediately after Andy Burnham was elected metromayor for Greater Manchester, he was greeted by a full turnout of supportive staff. Like an incoming minister at Westminster, his manifesto had been analysed, and that same staff had prepared policy options from which he might choose. He hit the ground running. I can guarantee that our own metromayor was not met with the same state of preparedness and enthusiasm.
I thought of this when I saw the distribution of portfolios within our own metromayor’s “cabinet”. As I have written repeatedly, there have been mistaken expectations of what he might achieve, principally because of the stacked deck which has been dealt him. The constitution of the Combined Authority – the “cabinet” which he chairs – sets out that the leader of each of the six constituent local authorities must be given at least one portfolio. They then, as a body, must agree who gets what. So, for example, I understand that the metromayor was turned over on his housing portfolio nomination, which ended up with Mayor Anderson, on the vote of the other leaders.
We must remember that, although we have an elected metromayor, there are five council leaders whose only real mandate is in the ward which they represent. Their political party group makes them leader; and that, in turn, puts them on the Combined Authority. Mayor Anderson was elected mayor in Liverpool, but, again, holds no direct mandate on the Combined Authority. Unlike the Greater London Authority, it is a very flawed system which can hamstring the elected metromayor repeatedly. It will take patience and extreme political skill to overcome these built-in barriers.
After all, the same people populate the Combined Authority as did before Steve Rotheram’s election. They are not the experts in a given field which many mistakenly believed would be recruited by an incoming metromayor. In fact, he is stuck with a constitution which requires radical surgery,if the metromayor is to be other than a rubber stamp for the same tired approach which an elected metromayor was supposed to energise.
There is one major change which was instigated by Her Majesty’s constabulary – that is, the removal of Ged Fitzgerald (LCC chief executive) as lead officer for the Combined Authority. In my view, this position requires an outside individual – that is, outside the cosy cabal of senior officers which has bedevilled politics on Merseyside for far too long. Whether, in fact, we get a totally new broom to sweep the Combined Authority clean, time will tell. It is an early challenge – amongst many – for the metromayor.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a tightening of the net around alleged corruption in Liverpool. At the moment, there is a focus on the scam selling of apartments to gullible clients in the Middle East and the Far East. The question repeatedly asked is how the planning approval of the construction of so many flats fits in with the city council’s strategic objectives. Furthermore, serious questions are being raised with regard to the quality and the safety of those which have been built.
It ought to bother everyone concerned with the longer term prospects of the city (and the city-region) that we are being associated with fraud on an industrial scale. In an age of fierce competition for investment, very little will come our way unless we can underline our bona fides as a city. As one very successful Liverpool businessman told me, he had not invested in Liverpool for over seventeen years. When asked why, he said simply that “I do not wish to sit in the same room as the people involved”. For me, that comment speaks volumes and sends out a clear warning about the danger to our city’s reputation.