Merseyside or Liverpool City Region?

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With Merseyside/Liverpool City Region being somewhat the centre of attention presently due to the recent spike in Covid 19 it’s been interesting to hear how the media and politicians interchange Merseyside with Liverpool City Region. I’ve even seen a posting on Twitter explaining what Liverpool City Region is made up of as even on Merseyside it’s a matter of some confusion with Joe and Jane Public.

First a bit of history. Merseyside was created as part of the big local government reorganisation which came into effect in 1974. It comprised and indeed still does comprise the council areas of Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens, Wirral and Liverpool. Mrs. T did not like the uppity Metropolitan County Councils and the Greater London Council so she abolished them. The powers that were held by Merseyside Country Council were given to joint boards made up of councillors from the boroughs or they went straight to the borough councils. The lead photo is of one of the last surviving Merseyside County Council boundary signs that I know of. It’s on Cunscough Lane on the Bikerstaffe/Melling – Lancashire/Merseyside boundary or at least it was last time I looked. You’ll note that the County Council had a crest which is displayed on the sign.

Then many years later there was a developing trend, particularly amongst Tories, to ape US/Australian local/regional government process and with that came the creation of Liverpool City Region, a City Region Mayor and a Police Commissioner. It also meant that Liverpool City had two elected mayors leading to the City Mayor becoming known as the ‘Spare Mayor’ in some circles. I think it’s fair to say that Police Commissioners have been a complete flop whilst the regional mayors are hardly viewed as being a successful policy move either.

The difference geographically between Merseyside and Liverpool City Region (LCR) is that LCR includes the Borough of Halton (Widnes & Runcorn) and the graphic below illustrates the area covered by LCR

But why did Merseyside morph into Liverpool City Region? Well it happened whilst I was leader of Sefton Council and the theory was this. The Council Leaders were told that potential investors in Merseyside did not know where it was, whereas they did know where Liverpool wass. You can follow this through reasonably logically by thinking about the huge successes of Liverpool Football Club who together with the Beatles put Liverpool on the world map. I get all that but to be honest I was never particularly sold on dropping Merseyside for LCR but a decision had to be made so eventually LCR was the title agreed but not with much enthusiasm I think it fair to say.

The irony of where we are now due to Covid 19 is that LRC may well mean a clear area of the UK for outside investors but to locals, politicians and the media in the UK it’s still Merseyside.

The name change has not really worked and it possibly never will with locals.

Aintree – Is the mothballed Nth Mersey Branch a Port of Liverpool access opportunity going begging?

Just south of Aintree Station there’s still a rail connection to the overgrown and mothballed North Mersey Branch, which heads off in the direction of the Port of Liverpool and Bootle. Here and above are a couple of shots of the rail connection as it is now:-

Both shots were taken from the end of the Liverpool bound platform of Aintree Station.

Surely it (the Nth Mersey Branch) could be, at least in part, a sensible contribution to the accessing the expanding Port of Liverpool. I might add that Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson wants a railway in a tunnel but Labour-run Sefton Council wants a road tunnel. Friends of the Earth are calling on Labour Mersey Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham to come out against the surface road solutions – I’m not aware that he has. Presently, Highways England are pressing ahead with their plans for a new road down and through Rimrose Valley Country Park.

The North Mersey Branch once went all the way to the docks (Gladstone Dock) but the the dock connection was removed many years ago, it connects the Southport – Liverpool and Ormskirk – Liverpool Merseyrail lines these days but it’s not been used (mothballed) for many a year. Merseytravel, the public transport arm of the Liverpool City Region, say they have long-term plans to reopen the branch for passenger traffic which was withdrawn from it and the former Ford and Linacre Road Stations in April 1951.

I recall going to the first public consultation event (a few years back) about how the expanding Port of Liverpool could be accessed by freight. On seeing only Highways England there I asked where Network Rail were so that the rail options could be talked through too. The answer was along the lines of they weren’t there and were not in reality a part of the process! I despaired then and I still do now…….

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Council Tax – How many more political mouths will want feeding on Merseyside?

I recently raised the issue of our Metro Mayor wanting you to dig deeper into your pockets to pay for his staff, wages and office running costs but of course we also have a Police and Crime Commissioner too and guess what they want you to dig deeper as well! Here’s a link to my post regarding the Metro Mayor’s grab for your pocket:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/01/20/metro-mayor-tax-another-call-on-your-pocket/

As for the Police and Crime Commissioner here’s what they are demanding in the next Council tax year beginning April 2019:-

My point is that I am very far from convinced that we need a Police and Crime Commissioner and the jury is certainly out over the Metro Mayor post because the 3rd rate devolved powers to the Merseyside Mayor make it hard to justify the cost of having one.

Bizarrely, both posts are the creation of the Conservatives who used to claim they wanted to keep the rates/Council tax down!

Whilst I was never a member of if it, in my time as a Borough Councillor or Council leader, my impression was that the former Police Committee made up of councillors from across Merseyside worked well and it was one of those things that was not broken and did not need fixing. But the Tories knew best and had been taken in by the American way of running Council areas with elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. Why they didn’t go the whole hog and call the P&CC’s Police Chiefs and give them a fancy uniform I don’t know.

But hey you get the grand positions and then surprise, surprise they want paying, they want to hire staff and they need premises to operate from. Seems the Tories have simply added folks to the public payroll and frankly what do we have to show for our generous ‘donations’ to either cause?

And before you ask, no I’m not saying that we all don’t have to chip in to run local services, it’s just that I don’t believe adding more glorified posts to the local payroll is the way to do it.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Click on the chart above to enlarge it

Metro Mayor Tax – Another call on your pocket

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/steve-rotheram-going-charge-you-15694713

Now I don’t recall amongst all the hype from Tories in Government and Labour locally who backed us having a Metro Mayor, on what I called at the time a 3rd rate devolution deal, that there’d be an addition to all the Liverpool City Region council tax bills, do you? But then again it was probably always the case that there’d be more mouths to feed and such has come to pass.

I’d be much happier if the powers devolved to our Metro Mayor had made it worth us putting our hands deeper into our pockets but I’ve been consistent in saying it was a poor deal that should not have been embraced so lovingly by Labour leaders across Merseyside.

It’s not that I’m opposed to devolved powers, indeed as a Liberal, I’ve championed such moves for as long as I can recall when both Tories and Labour nationally and locally would have none of it. It’s just that I’m far from convinced that the limited powers that our Metro Mayor has makes the post worth having (and us paying for) and I’d hold that view no matter who was our Metro Mayor.

And where’s the detailed plan and the vision for say the next 20 years to take our City Region forward, you get the impression that at least initially our money will be going to put that together whereas it should have come before the plea for cash.

Tell us what you are going to deliver – then ask us to chip in not the other way round

City Regions and their Metro Mayors – Middle aged white men! Big diversity issues here but the concept of City Regions is flawed too

ciltuk.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Focus/Mayors.pdf?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fciltemail.org.uk%2fcilt2011lz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Focus+_+May+_+2018&utm_term=How+have+the+metro+mayors+changed+British+politics%3f+%7c+May%27s+Focus+is+out+now!&utm_content=22855&gator_td=iT217sLHzHCoAXs18511elTuBZj1y%2bUBNsQ2o7DKf48Ic4IydWBQNaS7%2fFOG2l2wyKQc4JXZU1IwHtb%2bpWgqMLq5FmgGg%2b0arS69lo9I6mhxB3EwtEt8pRb3rC8KyWS2Hs0%2bO4QDHRDiyF8uROrzpNskgsTlxZ1gq3d5tjGKKoeO55z6Y6P5Szll43dbyFFILza%2fFcHZo3LJ9DDTp8PbDQ%3d%3d

The article is on the web site of Logistic and Transport Focus and is available via the link above

So many white middle aged men, yet most of them will be representing very ethnically diverse regions of England – regions where around 50% of the population will also be women I might add. A diversity disaster is my first thought.

I have always opposed the concept of City Regions and elected Mayors for a number of reasons. I don’t support the idea of concentrating power in the hands of one person, whomever that person may be, as it is a poor form of representation which does not deliver good democracy. Secondly, the devolved powers (certainly as far as the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside are concerned) are 2nd or even 3rd rate. But probably more than anything else I see power and resources being pulled into the heart of a City Region often at the expense of its surrounding towns and communities.

I can’t comment of the other City Regions as I’m not well enough informed but looking at my own Liverpool City Region I see two obvious examples of a pull to the centre and a disregard of an important issue to an outlying town.

The pull to the centre is the removal of around 3,000 civil servants from a deprived area into Liverpool City Centre. The losing community here is Bootle where a mini-Whitehall had been established over many years starting in the 1960’s. Yes some civil servants will be left in Bootle but why on earth take 3,000 of them out to place them in a crowded city centre where property is more expensive and the parking charges faced by poorly paid civil servants are high. Surely a lose lose situation especially when you take away the spending power of 3,000 workers from the Bootle retail economy. What did the Liverpool City Regional do about this? Well whatever it was it was ineffective because decisions made in the real Whitehall could not be overturned? Or was it that despite the huffing the puffing by the powers that be locally it actually suited some to concentrate jobs in Liverpool City Centre?

My second example is of an outlying Liverpool City Region Town effectively being left all but unsupported, by any meaningful regional intervention, over an important transport link. The link is the railway line and service from Southport to Wigan, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport which is about to suffer from a poorer service due to decisions being made by Network Rail, Northern Rail and the railway industry generally. The problem has been known about for a long time so it has not been a quick decision that has been difficult to address in a short timescale. Yet the main campaigners against the move to downgrade Southport’s rail service to Manchester have been two voluntary organisations – OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn) and Southport Rail Transport Forum. Where exactly has the Liverpool City Region and its Transport Committee Merseytravel been during this process and what have they done to defend the loss of an important rail link to Manchester Airport and a much reduced service to Manchester Piccadilly? But looking back further to when the Liverpool City Region produced its first Long Term Rail Strategy the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line did not even get a mention! That had to challenged and it was (successfully to some degree) but the 2nd iteration of this plan, published only last October, clearly makes the line little more than less than important to the City Region.

So my view remains that the concept of City Regions and City Region Mayors is badly flawed and that it can work to the disadvantage of towns surrounding a big city area. That neglect can manifest itself by things being drawn towards the centre or by issues in outlying towns being all but ignored. Look at it like this City Regions, as they are presently set up, are a bit like the overheated economy of the South East – a magnet for money to the City with crumbs from the city’s table finding its way to the outlying areas. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that as a rule of thumb any investment in an outlying City Region area will only happen if it is also to the advantage of the main hub.

Oh and just in case you’ve forgotten the other big issue – the City Region Mayors are all middle aged white men, just think on that.

Note – Both of the examples I have focused on above are within Sefton Borough

Mersey Tunnels – When a toll reduction is a big let down!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-42802041

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

Now what exactly was Steve Rotherham’s electoral pledge on Mersey Tunnels Tolls? Well I have listened carefully to the video on the Liverpool Echo web site from January 2017 and the pledge was very clear to me – Mr. Rotherham said he was going to reduce the cost of a single (Fast Tag) journey, for Liverpool City Region residents, through the tunnels to £1. No mention of it being only between 7pm at night and 7pm in the morning. Here’s the link to the Liverpool Echo article and video:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/tunnel-trips-1-5-things-12496167

So why has he watered down the pledge? Was it not fully thought through, costed and affordable when the pledge was made?

Is there any wonder folk lose faith in politicians who don’t deliver on pledges – Mr Clegg and his pledge to not increase Labour’s Tuition Fees comes to mind of course!

In my view tolls on tunnels and bridges should all be abolished and the cost of the upkeep of them funded from general taxation.