Groundhog Day

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.