City Regions have always been an ill-defined entity. Labour set them up but did not give them any powers. In many ways what we now call the City Region Cabinet has been there for years as it was previously known under the less grand title of the Merseyside Leader’s Group. In those days it existed to debate common problems and challenges across Merseyside, to explore collaboration to save costs and generally to ensure that an avenue of communication existed between the 5 Merseyside Councils. All sensible stuff although for a Council like Sefton, which has a longer boundary with Lancashire that it does with Merseyside, not having Lancashire County Council and West Lancashire Borough Council involved was always the big downside. Then along comes the City Region concept, which was intended to be larger than Merseyside and could probably be best defined as taking in the communities with a significant number of residents travelling to work in Liverpool. Well that certainly takes in West Lancashire as many Burscough, Ormskirk and Skelmersdale residents work in and around Liverpool. However, the City Region was never formalised, no powers were handed down as Labour had promised and it all rather fell by the wayside. The City Region, which adopted Halton Borough Council (Runcorn and Widnes) some years ago taking it up to 6 local authorities, carried on doing what it used to do under the old title with some added bells and whistles.
But where are we going now in the Coalition Government’s’s brave new world where there is little money (gambled away by bankers and spent and borrowed by Labour) and localism (at last) seems to be king? Well, one thing is for sure there is not going to be a powerful public sector City Region organisation although we are threatened, for want of a better word, with either a City or City Region Mayor. I must say that the latter does nothing for me; why concentrate power in the hands of one person? Sorry, this is wrong headed thinking.
So we seem to be back to collaboration where it is sensible, spreading best practice and debating things of wide importance. BUT if we get it right the City Region will drive forward the local economy with the private sector, tackle transport issues etc. which will be all to the good. However, Sefton still wants to work with Lancashire by encouraging their Councils to work more closely with our Borough and indeed the City Region.
The local government boundaries created in 1974, when Merseyside was formed, have sadly been a barrier to working with Lancashire and breaking them down is important for economic, health and transportation reasons, to name but the obvious ones. So the battle goes on to open up the Merseyside Lancashire boundary, with Sefton leading the welcoming party. Talks have started, more are planned and hopes are high. Any visitors from another planet would think that a fence had been built bewteen Sefton and Lancashire in 1974, yet no fence exists. However, fences of a different nature were built slowly and by default from 1974 onwards as local government and health providers, for example, created their own separate structures that grew apart. Breaking down those structures made over 35 years does not happen over night but health collaborations across Southport and West Lancs are being developed further and you never know one day, if Government really does pursue the localism agenda all the way, we will construct structures to manage communities as they best suite those communities rather than big brother in Westminster.