Love Activists please go home

Love Activists

After occupying and desecrating the wonderful building that is the former Bank of England Liverpool HQ on Castle Street and attempting to spoil the party of the amazing spectacle that was the three Queens by camping out at the Pier Head, the time wasters and laggards who call themselves ‘Love Activists’ well and truly shot themselves in the foot last Friday as they barnstormed an event that was raising money for the Jamie Bulger foundation.

The excuse from this sad bunch of individuals for an outrageous and unforgiveable act of violence was that they ‘didn’t know’ the Titanic Hotel was hosting a charity night. They thought it was a Labour Party function.

Well, that’s ok then, because we all know how supportive and committed Liverpool Labour Mayor Joe Anderson has been to the government’s austerity programme.

Of course, their excuse, and their claimed cause, is pathetic. In my view they neither care or are concerned about the memory of James Bulger as they are playing politics with the reputation of a city that has spent more than a decade now revising attitudes that painted it as a basket case full of Militant, anti-establishment loonies.

How many of these protestors are from Liverpool or have any genuine connection with the city? How many of them are genuinely homeless? And how many of them are claiming welfare benefits from addresses outside of our city boundaries?

It is time for law enforcement agencies in the city, principally the Police, to sort this lot out, and run them out of town. This week they have occupied the former bar MelloMello – where next?

The police claim they can do nothing, their hands are tied. As someone who witnessed Miners being stopped, searched and turned around on motorways in the eighties as they tried to support their colleagues picketing activities during the Miners’ Strike, I find that very hard to understand.

The barrage of laws that have been introduced in recent years in the name of combatting terrorism allows the police an unhealthy range of powers to deal with almost any incident.

Surely good and legal reason can be found for getting a grip of this small bunch of malcontents who are, quite literally, dragging our city’s name into the gutter.

Groundhog Day

joe

The case for a city region governance structure is now won. On the back of the recent Scottish Referendum, and the concession of a huge number of powers to the Scottish Parliament, Westminster politicians reluctantly acknowledge that the devolution of powers to England’s regions can no longer be denied.

In terms of managing this transition of powers effectively, city regions are seen as the most natural model for a new level of government, and many existing structures are set up in this way anyhow, including Local Enterprise Partnership’s.

In Liverpool, depressingly and predictably, war has broken out once again between Liverpool’s elected mayor Joe Anderson and the leaders of the Merseyside borough councils over how such an organisation would look here.

The argument, on the face of it, may appear to be based more on personalities than anything else, but recent history tells us the problem of our disconnected city region goes back a long way before Joe Anderson came to lead Liverpool.

Mike Story and Warren Bradley had their own challenges with their neighbouring authorities during their time at the helm of the city council. Back then the shenanigans were put down to the fact that the Liberal Democrat led city was surrounded by Labour controlled boroughs.

Now the city and all the boroughs are ‘red’ too, it is obvious that a simple lack of support for brand Liverpool to be the focus for investment, marketing and economic growth is the real problem.

Does this matter to the business community? It absolutely does.

Whilst Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle get ready to celebrate being named as pilots for super combined authorities, with additional powers and more importantly resources, Liverpool once again engages in a bout of civil war which has led to:

  • Liverpool sharing an exhibition stand at MIPIM UK in London next week with Manchester – but Knowsley taking its own place at this expensive conference!
  • £18 Million of training and skills money being sent back to central government from Merseyside, as agencies failed to engage with businesses effectively or lobby government to loosen the burdensome bureaucracy that surrounded the initiative
  • The Marketing Liverpool agreement that saw all promotional activity come under a single management structure for the past year thrown into doubt as partners squabble over who should be doing and getting what.

It is this sort of internal chaos that has civil servants shaking their heads in disbelief and running to Manchester or Leeds or Newcastle. When you have a limited amount of cash to dole out, you invest it where you have confidence in delivery.

Capital of Culture, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress and the International Festival for Business are all very recent examples of the city of Liverpool delivering. Unfortunately, the city region partners choose not to accept this; or the need for a more co-ordinated and coherent approach across Greater Liverpool – and so here we are again – Groundhog Day!

We need a strategic Combined Authority. It needs to be led by a full time politician and figurehead. We need to get on with it before we fall further behind our northern counterparts.

April Fools?

April Fools

The new Combined Authority was somewhat appropriately launched on 1st April, and though our political masters finally saw sense in terms of the name of the organisation, dropping the ‘Halton, ‘Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, Liverpool & Wirral Combined Authority’ title in favour of the rather more apt ‘the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’, they could not resist snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The crowning of Wirral leader Councillor Phil Davies as chair of the new organisation did not impress Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, who is threatening legal action over the process that was adopted to reach this decision – he and the leader of Sefton council missed the vote as they were between three and seven minutes late for the start of the meeting – depending on who you believe.

Whatever the truth, how the council leaders representing around 50% of city region residents can be excluded from such a decision is baffling.

All of this would add up to a good script if we were talking about an episode of Yes Minister, but for a city region that has ambitions to win millions of pounds of government investment for much needed infrastructure projects across the region it is bordering on negligent.

I argued that Joe Anderson should lead this new body in my blog the special one and nothing I have heard or seen since has changed my mind. That seems unlikely to happen now, and Liverpool’s Mayor is just as unlikely to put in jeopardy the potential additional investment Combined Authority status brings by withdrawing the city’s support. That is a truth that the four district leaders who continue to put parochialism before common sense are counting on.

Nevertheless, the experience that has been the Combined Authority journey so far offers lessons that ought to have been learnt long ago. We need to learn to wash our dirty laundry behind closed doors. We need to stop acting like the basket case Westminster politicians and opinion formers think we are. We need to grow up!

The Mayor, the city region and car boot sales…

Combined Authority

Downtown Liverpool joined forces with the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Pro Liverpool yesterday morning to discuss the future of our city region with Mayor Joe Anderson and 200 business leaders.

The issues that have caused most controversy and consternation in recent weeks – the name of the proposed combined authority that brings together the six local authorities from across the Liverpool city region, and who should lead that body, were high on the agenda, but seemingly have still to be fully resolved.

As Liverpool’s leading politician Joe Anderson is clearly doing his best to cajole, compromise and convince his fellow colleagues from Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral to do the right thing, but in the end he must resist giving in too much, otherwise the potential power and influence of the new body will be lost before it has even got off the ground.

That being said, one cannot do anything other than admire the passion and fire in the belly that Joe Anderson demonstrates when he articulates the case for Liverpool to collaborate not just with neighbouring districts but other core cities too in order to deliver continued progress and economic growth for his home town.

As the excellent Michael Parkinson of the University of Liverpool stated at the breakfast seminar, the opportunities that exist for attracting inward investment are all the more powerful if we can get the whole region rowing in the same direction. But his more pertinent point was this: With an ever shrinking pot of public funding, governments will want to spend their cash with partners they trust to deliver.

Manchester has that credibility in abundance. Liverpool city region, in no small part because of petty rows over name checking Halton in every strategy document, or marketing the latest car boot sale in Wirral as an official IFB event, has a reputation in Whitehall of being a ‘risky’ partner; a bit of a basket case.

Government ministers, particularly Eric Pickles, have been immature in taking advantage of a local row among Labour council leaders and MP’s with the absurd name he has saddled the Combined Authority with, but he should never have been given the open goal to shoot in to in the first place.

It is time for our local authority leaders to put their parochial agenda’s aside and accept Liverpool, once and for all, as the attack brand for the city region, and Joe Anderson as the best personality to lead a Combined Authority. Then Whitehall may take us a little more seriously than it appears to at the moment.

Liverpool needs to appoint the ‘Special One’

Special One

Top

In the summer Manchester United had a decision to make. The most successful British manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, was standing down and they needed to find a replacement who would continue to lead United to trophies at home and abroad.

The obvious, cast iron guarantee candidate was a flamboyant Portuguese man by the name of Jose Mourinho. With him in charge there would be little doubt that the Old Trafford side would continue to dominate domestic football and challenge for the Champions League.

That he wasn’t appointed came down to the fact that some in the boardroom  and possibly Sir Alex himself, felt that Mourinho was too outspoken, controversial and, perhaps, too charismatic.

Instead of appointing the most obvious and well qualified man for the job, United took a punt on David Moyes. A safe pair of hands, for sure, but with neither the experience, track record nor credibility of ‘the special one’ and a huge risk too.

A glance at United’s results since Moyes’ arrival will tell you that they have had a poor season so far, and it is unlikely to get much better following a surprise 2-0 defeat in Greece this week in their Champions League tie. Moyes looks like a man who is out of his depth. Maybe next season it will be different – but don’t hold your breath.

What has this got to do with the politics of Liverpool you may ask. Well, the proposed Halton, Sefton, St Helens, Knowsley, Liverpool and Wirral Combined Authority, so called as a result of private lobbying from city region districts, now looks like it will be led by a David Moyes equivalent.

In Joe Anderson Liverpool has an elected city mayor with a massive electoral mandate. He is someone who has a profile at regional, national and international level. During his leadership, the city has continued to grow, with more private sector jobs being created in the city than ever before; and he has brought the Global Entrepreneurship Congress and the International Festival of Business to the city. In addition, successful jaunts into the continent with the Shanghai Expo, MIPIM and the States add to his impressive CV – not to mention his bold move to open a Liverpool Embassy in London.

Despite all of this, and the fact that the city he leads accounts for over 70% of activity in the city region, the suggestion is that the leader of Wirral will chair the new Combined Authority organisation. Presumably this would be a one year appointment, and then we would have ‘Buggins Turn’ with Halton, St Helens, Knowsley and Sefton taking their place at the head of the table periodically. What an absolute nonsense.

If the name of the new body hasn’t already done so, then this type of political manoeuvring and game playing will most certainly turn the business community and potential investors off.

Joe Anderson may not be the pin up that Jose is, but in Liverpool city region terms he is ‘the special one.’ He is the only individual politician who can begin to restore credibility to an already discredited organisation, and the only one that can guarantee success.

We need to appoint Mayor Anderson as the leader of a Liverpool City Region Combined Authority – or accept that, just like Manchester United, decline in our performance is inevitable.