As well as the big party political bust up between the ruling Labour Party and us opposition Lib Dems over Labour’s budget for the Council last Thursday there was another matter on the Council agenda of importance.
I have commented before on the recently created Combined Authority for Merseyside, why Sefton Lib Dems would not support its setting up and subsequently the ridiculous farce because the 6 Merseyside Labour Council Leaders, who are responsible for setting it up, can’t even agree what to call it!
The report before Sefton Council last Thursday was at face value a technical one all about constitutional type issues for this new body but we saw an opportunity to try to make a significant move for the betterment of this flawed project. Our move was to propose an additional clause which read as follows:-
Commits Sefton Council to positively lead an exploration of all the realistic options to expand the Combined Authority to encompass those areas of Lancashire and Cheshire that are presently not a part of the Combined Authority but may aspire to such.
No one was more surprised than me, as the mover of this amendment, when the Labour Leader got to his feet and agreed with me! In Merseyside Labour’s horizons are usually very low but it seems that light has penetrated Labour’s darkness on this matter.
There are two important reasons why Merseyside has been seen to be and indeed has been dysfunctional and unsuccessful in terms of its local governance. Firstly, its Labour-run Councils over the years have not got on or even had a common agenda – fighting like ferrets in a sack comes to mind! I saw some of this at first hand when I was Leader of Sefton and there were then 2 other Lib Dem Council Leaders from St Helens and Liverpool Councils. I think it fair to say that we 3 Lib Dem Council Leaders often used to wonder if Labour had any other agenda than trying to unseat the Labour Chairman of Merseytravel because that issue did the rounds so many times. Most of all this was symptomatic of Labour’s long-standing Merseyside internal rivalries.
But the other problem is that Merseyside is far too small. It does not represent the real travel to work area of Liverpool with places such as West Lancashire and Ellesmere Port being outside of the governance structure. A glance across at Greater Manchester shows you how right that balance can be and how wrong Merseyside has always been since it’s creation in 1974.
Greater Manchester has virtually always displayed a public face of a common agenda and in doing so it has been successful. Merseyside has never had a common agenda and the consequences have been failure. Greater Manchester is clearly a governance area that makes sense and which encompasses the vast majority of Manchester’s travel to work area. Merseyside is too small and it does not represent Liverpool’s travel to work area.
Maybe a small step was made last Thursday to address the geographical problem, I certainly hope so. Whether Labour can sort out the generations of infighting across Merseyside is quite another!