Liverpool City Region Governance Review – Consultation Response from the Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council

I posted about this on 17th August under the heading of Merseyside Joint Authority and now Cllr. Nigel Ashton as Chair of the opposition Lib Dem Group of councillors on Sefton Council has made this excellent formal submission on our behalf:-

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Introduction

1.1 A review of the governance of the Liverpool City Region (LCR) is overdue. The LCR as presently constituted is neither effective nor transparent. It is certainly not accountable, either to its constituent authorities or to the wider public whose interests it exists to serve.

1.2 We are severely disappointed that the opportunity for a more fundamental review has not been taken. The options outlined in the Governance Review merely formalise the existing arrangements, albeit with the inclusion of transport.

Geography

2.1 The biggest problem is the geographical area of the existing City Region. It is neither small enough to be local, nor large enough to be truly effective in the stated aim of creating jobs and driving economic growth at a sub-regional level. There is no recognition given to the strategic importance of co-operation with Lancashire County Council.

2.2 The current area of the LCR is dominated by Liverpool City itself, yet important parts of Liverpool’s economic hinterland and travel to work area are excluded from the LCR. The existing LCR does not even cover both banks of the river Mersey for its tidal stretch.

2.3 Important areas such as Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Ellesmere Port are excluded. Edge Hill University in Ormskirk is a major contributor to the knowledge economy and a national resource for medical and teacher training. The petrochemical plants in Ellesmere Port are also of huge economic importance.

2.4 The opportunity must be taken to negotiate with West Lancashire District Council and Cheshire West & Chester Unitary Authority with a view to their participation in the proposed Combined Authority. This would add economic clout and go some way to mitigate the over-dominance of Liverpool City itself in the sub-region.

2.5 Most of the land boundary of Sefton is with Lancashire and people in the North of Sefton look as much to the east as to the south. It is important that the LCR establishes a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Transport

3.1 We understand that the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority has already voted to wind itself up and place Merseytravel under the aegis of the proposed Combined Authority. The fact that Merseyrail reaches Chester and Ormskirk strengthens the case for extending the LCR to include these areas, given the strategic importance of transport to economic development and job creation.

3.2 A sizeable number of people commute eastwards from the Southport area, yet the Southport – Wigan – Manchester rail line has suffered from chronic under-investment for many years. No progress has been made towards the long awaited Ormskirk by-pass, despite improved transport links being a key requirement identified when hospital services were split between Southport and Ormskirk.

3.3 There is no direct rail link between Southport and either Preston or Ormskirk. The lack of a direct rail service from Preston and the north is a drag on the development of Southport’s visitor economy, which forms a key component of Sefton’s economic strategy.

3.4 Improving road and rail links east and north-east from Sefton should be a priority for the LCR’s transport strategy. This would be facilitated by extending the LCR to include West Lancashire and by the creation of a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Governance and Scrutiny

4.1 We don’t feel that any of the options outlined in the Governance Review document will effectively meet the criteria of promoting economic regeneration, development and transport. It is not too late to persuade the Government that more time is needed to do the job properly.

4.2 We are particularly concerned about the inadequacy, and uncertainty, of the proposed scrutiny arrangements set out in paragraph 9 of Appendix One of the draft scheme.

4.3 There are no clear terms of reference or powers for the proposed Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Any establishment of sub-committees or co-options will be subject to the approval of the very body that the OSC is meant to scrutinise.

4.4 In the absence of any guarantee of proportionality on the OSC, it is entirely possible that all the members of the OSC will be members of the same political party as all the members of the LCR executive body. Not only would that be bad governance, it would lead to poor scrutiny and inflict reputational damage on the LCR.

Cllr Nigel Ashton, Chair, Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council
6 September 2013

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