Liverpool City Region devolution – The deal is rubbish and should be rejected out of hand.

My two most recent postings on this subject are available via the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/10/07/liverpool-city-region-underwhelmed-by-lackluster-submission-for-delegated-powers-2/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/11/03/liverpool-city-region-was-that-submission-for-devolved-powers-from-government-deliberately-poor/

The Liverpool City Region settlement announced today falls far behind the one negotiated for Greater Manchester.

The Liverpool City Region has been given far fewer powers than was Greater Manchester.

Manchester will have control over the Police and over the Health Service Liverpool will not! These are two huge areas where Manchester will be able to better coordinate at a sub-regional level the work of the public sector across their huge conurbation. Crime and the NHS are probably our greatest local challenges so what’s the point of a devolution deal that does not empower the Liverpool City Region to address them?

In addition one of the new Liverpool City Region powers, to regulate buses is probably little more than whistling in the wind. The North-East combined authority has already decided not to make use of this devolved ‘power’ because they would have to pay over £230 million in compensation to the existing bus operators.

This is not a good deal, it’s in no way a historic deal but it is just about the best deal our often publicly bickering Merseyside Council Leaders could get with their poor quality, seemingly last minute application. We could have had a much better, potentially worth having, deal had the 6 Merseyside council leaders been working together for the past few years in the way that the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester have been doing.

In my opinion the deal is not worth a carrot, it will probably get us an unwanted and costly Metro Mayor and Merseyside is hardly likely to move forward. Not radical just ridiculous and it should be rejected out of hand.

So the Merseyside Leader’s delegated powers bid to Osborne was poor then?….

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-34520919

The BBC has the story – see link above

My posting of 7th October said:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/10/07/liverpool-city-region-underwhelmed-by-lackluster-submission-for-delegated-powers-2/

Liverpool City Region – Underwhelmed by lackluster submission for delegated powers

So our 6 Labour Council Leaders from across Merseyside have put in their plea to George Osborne for him to give the City Region some crumbs from his devolution table. I must say I am sadly underwhelmed by their bid though.

This posting is not an attempt to comment on the document page by page but I am picking out things that caught my eye, or are a particular policy interest area for me or where I think the document is deficient.

Firstly the laugh out loud moments from the 25 page document:-

We are working together!!!! – ‘We have a proven track record of being able to decide priorities locally’ and ‘We have also proven our ability to work together collectively’. No not made up it’s there in the document! Bearing in mind how our Labour Council Leaders have seemingly squabbled like ferrets in a sack for years in public via the press you wonder whether they were able to keep their faces straight when they signed a document going to Government saying they were now best mates who will stick by each other.

Metro Mayor!- But moving on through this rather uninspiring document which could hardly be said to be innovative or motivating we come to a paragraph on page 3 which effectively gives the Metro Mayor game away. It says ‘We also recognise that the “prize” of devolution may necessitate a “price” to be paid in respect of the government’s stated aim of introducing an elected mayor for the City Region. We are prepared to consider making a change in our local governance arrangements……….’ Is this the Merseyside Labour Council Leaders waving the white flag and falling in behind Joe Anderson, who seems to want to rule Merseyside? Yes I believe it is and in the words of Dave Allen ‘may your God go with you’.

We cost Treasury too much? – There is an interesting and I take it to be accurate statement to the effect that the Liverpool City Region area spends two pounds on public services for every one it raises in taxation and this means the City Region has the largest relative gap between tax raised and public spending in England. £9.5 billion generated for the Treasury but £18.6bn back in public spending. A sobering thought indeed.

More Cuts? – This also caught my eye ‘there are potentially efficencies and cost savings to be gained if greater control and coordination of government funding and activity is devolved to the City Region’. This could be interpreted as room for more cuts of course.

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

Mersey Tunnel tolls – One of the ‘Asks’ of government is that ‘Legislative clarity on the ability to utilise [Mersey] tunnel toll income for wider economic development purposes’. That should go down a bundle with residents of the Wirral in particular! This ‘ask’ seems to be linked to another ‘ask’ which requests government to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Of course a proportion of the toll money is presently used to fund the debt repayments. I think tunnel users would want to know what their extra tax would be paying for if it was not to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Indeed you could expect them to want lower tolls if the tunnel debts are paid off by government.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU's) at Southport Station.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

A train ‘ask’ – There an ‘ask’ about our promised (many times) replacement rolling stock for Merseyrail to ‘reduce the financial risks’. This is linked to needing long term certainty over the Special Rail Grant that Merseyside gets each year. A reasonable request I would think here.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it's another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it’s another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A buses ‘ask‘ is to ‘secure the ability to franchise local bus services, to ensure that they have the required reach, penetration, quality and pricing structure and serve the needs of the Liverpool City Region’. This may well, depending on what it actually means, turn the Tories Bus Deregulation Act of the early 1980’s on its head (or drive a bus through it at least) and not before time I say. BUT bearing in mind that the thrust of this submission to government acknowledges in effect that austerity is here to stay then it does not mean more subsidy for bus services unless of course that is where the tunnel tolls may be siphoned off?

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

Housing and Spacial Planning – Some very worthy stuff here but what is so obviously missing? Well as far as Sefton Borough is concerned it’s protection of its high grade agricultural land from development. So is the fact that the City Region is not making a request to government for local powers to protect it the final admission that the City Region and Sefton Council do not want to?

Energy – Some good stuff here about support for the proposed offshore tidal lagoon and also a request for powers to maximise the potential of renewable energy. But even then this is hardly taking the ‘green’ agenda and running with it, surely we should be aiming to be the most energy efficient City Region in Europe? Where’s the ambition to inspire?

City Region Mayor Powers – If there was any doubt that our glorious Leaders are now all but fully behind a City Region Mayor then this quote leaves no room for any doubt:-

*To consider whether an elected Liverpool City Region Mayor should take over the role of the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner and the role of the Fire Authority.

There are other ‘asks’ about Children’s Services, Education, Cultural Partnership, Health – Wellbeing and Social Care, a Free Trade Zone, European Funding, Skills & Employment and Business Support but I have not touched on those areas in this posting.

My conclusion is that frankly the submission is too bland and it lacks ambition. Here was a great opportunity to lay out a radical plan to fundamentally change the health, wealth and environmental sustainability of Merseyside and it has been an opportunity lost. It strikes me, as a former Council Leader, as one of those documents written by Council Officers and then signed off/rubber stamped by politicians. Even if government gave it the green light on all the ‘asks’ I can’t see it changing the outcomes of Merseyside residents much at all.

I wonder if it will get the green light from government (with a few tweaks along the way) because all the Tories really seem to want is the appearance of devolution and a Metro Mayor. If so government will say they have negotiated a fine deal to empower Merseyside and local council leaders will say they got virtually every possible concession from government and the Metro Mayor has been forced on them. But in the real world not much will change other than we all get that damn Metro Mayor idea imposed on us and another highly paid politician to lord it over us.

Devolution for Merseyside? But on whose terms? – Beware Labour Leaders & Tory Government will want to impose a package

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-34060526

The BBC has the story – see link above

Council leaders have agreed to submit a bid for a devolution deal that could pave the way for an elected mayor in the Liverpool City Region.

‘We need to come up with a really ambitious package’

So what’s going to be in the devolution package? Who is going to be consulted about it? Will Joe and Jane Soap here on Merseyside get any chance to have a say on the package before it is sent off to the Tory Government?

All we know is that the 6 Labour Council Leaders across Merseyside want a package and that they want it to be ambitious but based on their now legendary inability to get on with each other what hope can we have?

Devolution of powers? YES, as a Liberal it is what I have fought for all my political life and in times when neither Tories nor Red Tories (Labour) believed in it at all.

A Metro Mayor? NO – I don’t want the communities of Merseyside to run from Liverpool Town Hall by Joe Anderson or anyone else for that matter.

Here are Lib Dem Cllr. Richard Kemp’s views via the Liverpool Echo:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-city-region-devolution-list-9935622

Beware of Labour politicians promising to devolve power!

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/labour-pledge-liverpool-benefit-biggest-8997775

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above.

But there are two big problems here. Firstly Labour have not all of a sudden become a party that wants to give power away to local communities so that they can decided what is best for themselves. What Labour means by devolution is that local Labour political barons will be given power to decide what’s best for you and I. This is very different from how Liberals see power being devolved to communities and out of the hands of political parties. You can’t empower people if all you are doing is shifting a decision making process from one set of party hacks to another.

Secondly, and my previous posting (see link below) about devolving control over bus services on Merseyside refers of a couple of days ago, how could we have any confidence that our local Labour Council Leaders could do the job?

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/04/06/merseyside-leaders-on-the-buses-but-would-they-would-all-want-to-be-reg-varney-butler-driving-off-to-6-different-destinations/

Their record in recent times of public bickering, an inability to seemingly get along with each other and arguing over the the name of Merseyside’s new combined authority does not fill anyone with any confidence.

Labour are centralisers of power within their own clans, it is not in their nature to share power with ordinary people. Beware of Labour politicians bearing devolution gifts!

Localism

I was taken with this quote from the latest edition of Private Eye:-

‘Localism, of course, doesn’t always suit the government, which most of the time is anxious to remove as much power as possible from local authorities’ – You can read into that any government since the Second World War in my view!

This comment sums up my views on the matter very well. Yes all the political parties talk the talk about localism but they rarely walk the walk! We still live in one of the most centralised democracies in Europe and when government throws out a rope with localism and devolution written on the end of it you can bet they will soon ‘sober up’ and realise they need to start hauling that same rope back in again.