Devolution in Liverpool

Newington's Chris Peacock takes an in-depth look at how devolution is progressing in Liverpool.

Last week, the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, former Labour MP Steve Rotheram, wrote in his blog that his two biggest challenges over the next three years will be “to convince people that devolution really does matter, and that the idea and identity of Liverpool City Region makes sense.”

The first of these will depend greatly on what the government will do to back up its rhetoric on the Northern Powerhouse and devolution more generally. Mayor Rotheram said this week, following the launch of 100-day plan, that from his early discussions with government, “devolution is the only show in town, and they see the new mayoral combined authorities as the vehicles for delivering transformational change and rebalancing the economy.”

But what will the Government do to back this up? The update on the routes to HS2 this week was a stark reminder that to the Metro Mayors of the North, Northern Powerhouse Rail (a programme to improve rail links between the North’s six largest cities) is far more important for economic growth than the much maligned and promoted HS2 project.

The Mayor has also set the ambitious aim to plan and deliver a Mersey Tidal Barrage to create sustainable energy for the region. But what support will Theresa May’s government provide for that in the immediate and distance future?

Only time will tell, but with the vast majority of the government’s time being taken up with having to deliver Brexit, it is only going to be an uphill task for Steve Rotheram and the other metro mayors to get devolution working for them and their residents.

The second challenge for Mayor Rotheram is convincing the people in the Liverpool City Region that this is something more than, in his words; “something just invented by people in Whitehall or town halls”, but “rooted in everyday life.” Sadly, for Mayor Rotheram this is exactly what the Liverpool City Region is.

From town halls on both sides of the Mersey there were arguments about the name of the Combined Authority, with some refusing to have Merseyside as part of it and others concerned about the dominance of the city of Liverpool. Only in finally coming together was the City Region was created, but it means little to the people of Southport, St Helens, or Sefton or indeed those across the river on the Wirral. Historically either part of Lancashire or Cheshire, these local people have had little time or care for the creation of this new political administrative layer.

Ultimately for Mayors like Steve Rotheram, his two challenges come hand in hand. He’ll only be able to create that sense of place for the City Region when local people see it delivering positive change for them – so they can see that devolution really does matter. But to achieve that, the Mayor is going to have to work against a political environment which is focused on one thing Brexit, for now and the foreseeable future. And that is not the creation of a new rail link across of the north, or a Mersey barrage, as most in the north and the Liverpool City Region want to see.

To understand how the new metro mayors may affect your business, contact Pavitar Mann at pavitarmann@newingtoncomms.co.uk or on 020 7234 3309.