Liverpool’s not there yet

Liverpool Waterfront 2013

There is a report elsewhere in today’s TFI about the united front that business organisations from across the city region have been able to sign up to in terms of support for a devolution deal for Liverpool – or ‘Devo Scouse’ as some have labelled it.

The fact that six business groups with all very different memberships, cultures, approaches and agendas were able to come together in the space of a month to reach agreement is something our political leaders may reflect upon as they continue to grapple with the question – is the prize worth the price?

The prize could include a huge package of powers, but not necessarily with an uplift in resources. Devolution is more about the notion that local leaders can get more productivity by managing existing cash more effectively, rather than the chancellor writing a big cheque. However, it may be fair to assume that the first tranche of Combined Authorities that are planned to be announced in the autumn will have one or two sweeteners to help them on their way. George Osborne will want to see some quick wins for his big idea as he gears up for his tilt at the big job.

For this reason, being part of the initial wave of devolved authorities holds some attraction, and it is the thing that is driving huge conurbations like Birmingham and the West Midlands and city regions like Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle to drive forward action plans that will meet with government approval.

The big sticking point for many though, Liverpool included, is the price. The establishment of an elected metro mayor.

I have rehearsed previously why I believe metro mayors are a force for good, including this blog here.

However, not so much the post itself, but the man who may get the job, is the main objection from a good number of local politicians in Merseyside.

So a devolution submission has been put together, ‘signed off’ and approved by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on Wednesday. Negotiations will take place with ministers and mandarins, but agreement is far from certain.

It would be a shame if we let personalities get in the way of the fantastic opportunity that a devolution deal offers – but at this stage only a brave man would bet on Liverpool’s leaders doing the brave thing. Win the prize, pay the price, secure the what’ – and then worry about the ‘who’.

Mersey Mayor almost there

Boe Johnderson

The establishment of a metro mayor for the Liverpool city region came a step closer last week following a meeting of the leaders of the six Merseyside local authorities and local government Minister Greg Clark.

There may be some continued chest beating, huffing and puffing from those leaders who still see the insistence of an elected mayor to be an imposition too far; but pragmatism will surely dictate that to win the devolution of power that is on offer, the prize is greater than the perceived sacrifice.

For Downtown in Business, this provides another tick in the box for the many campaigns we have been involved in over the past eleven years. Our organisation has been a long-time advocate of metro mayors. Indeed long before George Osborne introduced his notion of the Northern Powerhouse, we were arguing for decentralisation of powers and resources, alongside a much needed modernisation of local governance structures.

To my mind local government should not see the introduction of metro mayors as either an imposition or a sacrifice. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate local democracy, and introduce some much needed accountability and transparency over a whole myriad of decisions on big strategic issues that are currently taken behind closed doors.

From European funding bids, through to decisions about skills funding; transport strategy to planning policy; a combination of unelected representatives of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the six Labour men who run the Combined Authority, own this agenda with little or no challenge.

An elected mayor for the region will not only provide Greater Liverpool with an opportunity to deliver more effective and relevant strategies to grow our economy and create jobs, but also adds a much needed democratic and accountable element into areas of policy that absolutely need scrutiny and transparency.

Hopefully, too, it will help to re-engage the electorate with politics. Turnout for local polls are woefully poor, as electors have drawn the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the only election that matters is the one that determines who governs at Westminster. The office of Metro Mayor will have genuine powers and resources to make significant decisions on behalf of their city region, and will become important figureheads for the localities they represent.

All being equal, in simple terms, Liverpool will have its own Boris by 2017. That is a win for Downtown – and more importantly a win for our city too.

Let’s stick together

Power to the North

“If you’re in this city, the competition can be Everton versus Liverpool. If you’re in my city its City against United. In business terms we often see the competition as Manchester versus Liverpool. But then if the cockneys start make disparaging remarks about the North, we all bond together and have a go back at London. Then if the French slag off England, we unite with London to fire back at France.”

The delivery of this excellent observation came from Mr Deansgate, Nik Maguire, addressing the digital forum which was part of the series of excellent Liverpool Business Week events hosted by Downtown this week.

It was a point that was well made at a time when, in trying to compete in a global market and establish a Northern Powerhouse, the necessity for us to identify common goals rather than focus on traditional rivalries is increasingly obvious.

The good news is that, a few notable parochial internal spats in Lancashire and Merseyside notwithstanding, our regional business and political leaders have taken note.

The degree of co-operation taking place between Leeds, Manchester, Lancashire, Liverpool and the other core cities of the north on transport infrastructure is significant.

Equally, arguably the greatest of city rivalries between Liverpool and Manchester, has been put aside on many occasions over the past eighteen months, with the cities sharing platforms, marketing collateral and policy development in a whole range of areas. The London based MIPIM UK property festival in October will see Manchester and Liverpool share exhibition space for the second consecutive year.

And, as Liverpool gears up to host the UK International Festival for Business in twelve months’ time, the man tasked with making a success of this unique three week jamboree, Max Steinberg, is reaching out to the rest of the country, in particular other parts of northern England, to help showcase what is the best of British.

The festival is a great opportunity for businesses from across the country – but also a chance to show that we can genuinely establish a Northern Powerhouse where our great cities and counties work together when needed for the greater good.

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.

Want Devolution? Then get an Elected Mayor!


So, it couldn’t be clearer. If city regions and county’s want what Manchester has in terms of devolved powers and additional resources, then they will have to adopt a governance model that includes an elected mayor.

George Osborne has thrown down the gauntlet to the likes of Leeds and Liverpool, who had indicated outright opposition to such a proposition; and he has provided counties such as Lancashire with the opportunity of genuinely getting involved in the Northern Powerhouse project.

It didn’t take Leeds long to accept that, with a majority Tory government in situ for the next five years (and way beyond that if the Labour Party continues to act as it is at the moment), a more pragmatic approach to the ‘metro mayor’ idea was required. The chairman of the Leeds Combined Authority, Peter Box, has conceded that it is something that must be explored, and I would expect progress to be made fairly quickly in terms of a West Yorkshire deal with central government. I am certainly looking forward to hearing the thoughts of Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan at our forthcoming City of Leeds Business Awards evening on the 4th June.

Liverpool has remained virtually silent on the issue post-election, with city mayor Joe Anderson continuing his call for the other local authority leaders from across Merseyside to accept reality, but his comments seemingly falling on deaf ears. Unless and until the leaders from Halton, St Helens, Wirral and Knowsley demonstrate a more mature and practical response to the Osborne agenda than has thus far been the case, then the Liverpool City Region risks being side-lined from this hugely important agenda; and an increasingly frustrated business community may just start to agitate far more vociferously than has been the case so far.

For Lancashire, the chancellor’s latest speech in Manchester on the ‘devo’ subject last week gave the county some clarity and, hopefully, the reason for a collective and cohesive response to a debate that, up until now, had appeared to focus exclusively on city regions.

A ‘One Lancashire’ model, based on the boundaries currently operated by the Local Enterprise Partnership, is what Ministers prefer. Time will only tell if Lancashire’s political leaders do a ‘Leeds’ or do a ‘Liverpool’.

Burying heads in the sand, hoping for a different Whitehall policy on local government and devolution was barely credible before the General Election – it is beyond stupid now.