I am in no doubt that there are two key elements to the success or otherwise of the Liverpool City Region. One is the governance arrangements; the other is the lead given by its biggest constituent authority, Liverpool City Council.
Comparisons with our near neighbour down the East Lancashire Road are unavoidable, given its obvious growth, and its additional powers currently unavailable to our own city region. It appears to have a sense of coherence and of purpose lacking in our own local leadership, more concerned with irrelevant distractions than with focussed development. Let me illustrate this.
During the past week, Mayor Anderson has involved himself again in issues and areas of competence outside of his brief. One concerned conditions in Walton Prison; the other was a London lobbying trip to London on transport. Now, it may be pedantic, but the prison issue is clearly a matter for local MP, Dan Carden. Transport is the stated responsibility of metromayor, Steve Rotheram. Why must Anderson butt in on the responsibilities of others? He would rant about such an intrusion onto his brief.
Part of our city region’s difficulties is the manner in which Liverpool’s mayor blunders around with an opinion on everything except the efficient and honest conduct of the city’s administration. Unable to resist a headline, he insists on a “king of the castle” approach to anything and everything. But, like Humpty Dumpty, he is heading for a fall, and that is not going unnoticed beyond Liverpool. The city’s reputation is neither enhanced by the mayor’s total misunderstanding of his role, nor by the absence of a political strategy with recognisable objectives. Manchester strives for recognition as the country’s second city; we seem to be turning into a spivs’ paradise.
Naturally, this reflects on the wider city region. Whilst neighbouring local authorities might battle on despite Liverpool, they are likely to be inhibited in their efforts by Liverpool’s sour name with potential investors. Incidentally, it is remarkable that Merseyside Police is so quiet on the sea of scandalous charges lapping at the door of the city council. Lancashire Police have investigated the abuses at One Direct (Fitzgerald et al), but Merseyside Police have maintained a Trappist silence about Liverpool Direct where the same people are alleged to be part of an even bigger scam. Similarly, Greater Manchester Police are busy investigating the crooks involved in the New Chinatown fiasco, while Merseyside Police sit on their hands. Steve Rotheram ought to prioritise bringing the role of Police Commissioner directly under his wing (as Andy Burnham has done in Manchester) so that some action might be initiated.
Nevertheless, my gut instinct is that there will be little change of note until we see changes in local political arrangements, and the democratic deficit is addressed. That would entail the abolition of the role of city mayor – a position on which (unlike elsewhere in the country) a referendum was denied the people of Liverpool. Secondly, I would like to see the constitutional stranglehold of local authority leaders on the Combined Authority loosened. Arrangements akin to those which operate in the Greater London Authority would be much more democratic than those with which we are currently lumbered.
Until there is substantial and progressive change, I fear that we will lag ever further behind other city regions. That may suit the profiteers and get-rich-quick merchants who happily hoover up their profits from dodgy “developments” and unnecessary student flats. It does nothing for those in our city still languishing on poor wages or benefits, and non-existent opportunities.