The gang of three

The chief executive of Knowsley Borough Council Sheena Ramsey left her post this week with little or no fanfare.

Her departure was officially said to be driven by ‘cost cutting’ although speculation around child care services, or even a fall out between her and the council’s leadership have been rife.

Whatever the reason, the reality of financial pressures across the city regions local authorities is acute – and is set to get worse with further budget reductions on the way.

Largely behind the scenes, Liverpool councils have done deals to share back office services, and despite the many fall outs that are usually very publically aired at Combined Authority level, there has been genuine progress in administrative co-ordination and savings.

This still doesn’t get local councils anywhere near meeting the reductions that have been demanded by the austerity agenda embarked upon by the coalition government and, it has to be said, likely to be continued by whichever party wins power at the General Election next year.

Library closures, community and leisure centres disappearing and the third sector decimated, how long will it be before even the statutory provision that councils are duty bound to provide begin to be a thing of the past? Already many such services are said to be at breaking point.

The arguments about a more co-ordinated, streamlined organisational structure at city region level have been well made by Downtown and many others in recent years. The multiple layers of governance seem at best unnecessary and at worst wasteful.

But with the removal of a chief executive on the grounds of ‘cost cutting’, has the agenda and debate about simply stacking the existing deckchairs more effectively and efficiently moved on?

If Knowsley cannot afford a chief officer then how long before Sefton or even Liverpool is in the same boat? Could these three separate local authorities share a chief executive? Could they share a chief Education Officer, a head of social services? Indeed, is it time to seriously debate merging Liverpool, Knowsley and Sefton and creating a Greater Liverpool council – resulting in not only millions of pounds worth of savings, but a more coherent model of governance.

Including Wirral, St Helens and Halton in the recently established Combined Authority model is proving just as hard as all other previous ‘Merseyside’ coalitions have been. A lack of cultural consistency, genuine community connectivity and the politics of personalities have all been part of the problem in working together.

But where people in St Helens fail to fully accept that there town is a part of Liverpool, Sefton’s community fails to accept that it isn’t a part of the city. Wirral winces at the prospect of being a cog in the Liverpool wheel. Knowsley already thinks it is.

A Greater Liverpool Council? It’s worth a discussion, surely.

It’s Liverpool: the Business Conference – A Manifesto for Liverpool takes place at the Hilton Hotel, Liverpool on Wednesday 26th November. CLICK HERE for further details.

What A Farce!


Downtown Liverpool has been a long time campaigner for a Liverpool city region Combined Authority.

It is a model that has worked and served Greater Manchester well for several years now, and the opportunity and potential that comes with a more collaborative approach between the six local councils in this part of the North West is easy to see.

However, our politicians have a knack of shooting the region in the foot, looking gift horses in the mouth and grasping defeat from the jaws of victory that is as uncanny as it is tragic.

The latest gaff, apparently courtesy of local districts who did not wish to see the word Liverpool dominate the title of the new local government body, comes with the proposed name which is, wait for it, ‘The Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority.’ That trip’s of the tongue easily doesn’t it?

Imagine calling the Downtown office and being met with ‘Hello, Downtown Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester and Leeds in Business’!

The suggested name is nonsense but it is what this says about the reality of genuine collaboration amongst our local government representatives that is of most concern. If they can’t come up with an agreement on a sensible name for an organisation, what chance is there of them producing a coherent economic strategy?

For this reason I am urging Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson to walk away from a body that at best will be a talk shop and at worse could do serious damage to the city’s future regeneration and economic growth.

Will the city Mayor be expected to continually placate and negotiate with those who actually believe that their districts are as big a brand as Liverpool? Would there need to be a ‘redistribution’ of opportunities that emerge via inward investment activity and marketing and promotion? Can Joe really be expected to dilute a Liverpool brand which has been in the ascendency now for over a decade? I simply ask Joe this question – do you think you could sign up to this backward looking agenda?

Parochial politicians and council officials may try to hide behind Eric Pickles and government ministers for the botched name fiasco. They are not being honest with us. Our Whitehall sources have confirmed that heavy private lobbying has taken place to abandon the publicly agreed name of the ‘Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’ to the humdinger we have been saddled with. Worse, political leaders are working behind the scenes to unseat Joe Anderson as the chair of this organisation.

The local daftness aside, it is equally contemptible for the government to propose this bizarre name for what they presumably want to see as a serious policy making body for the city region. It may amuse Tory and Liberal Democrat ministers to see Labour council leaders scrap like rats in a sack, but they ought to care more about the credibility of Liverpool and the wider region.

If it wasn’t so serious, and embarrassing, it might be funny. Business leaders are fed up with this nonsense. We need to demand maturity and vision from our political masters – nationally and locally!