Slow off the mark
Apr 14 2008
by Haydon Wood, Liverpool Daily Post
MERSEYSIDE needs to get its act together. A year ago, a government minister, Phil Woolas, announced he’d knocked heads together and the Merseyside City Region would become a reality.
Insiders try to assure me that, under the guidance of Knowsley council leader Ron Round, work is being done to create the organisation that would be given new powers to boost skills and tackle unemployment.
Survey after survey has shown that one of the main reasons why unemployment and low pay remain worse here than other parts of the country is lack of skills.
So you would expect local politicians to bite the hand off a government offering to devolve power and cash to Merseyside to tackle these issues.
But, as far as I can see, there has been little progress since Mr Woolas did his head banging.
Instead, we see Greater Manchester’s City Region so far down the track that they are no longer talking about how nice it would be if Wigan and Stockport, Bury and Manchester could get together for a chat about things.
Representatives of their City Region are in intensive talks with senior civil servants from the Treasury and three other key ministries to put the whole thing on a statutory basis.
Before offering my explanation for the tardiness of Merseyside, I need to explain what these City Regions and their associated Multi Area Agreements are all about.
As with so many issues around the way we are governed, they may seem irrelevant and dry as dust to the public. In fact, they are very important. Without structure the people perish, in my opinion.
Believe it or not, the Government has been persuaded to release its total grip on centralised funding and decision making. It is prepared to give up some of its power to the major City Regions. So the millions of pounds spent annually on Merseyside by the unaccountable Learning and Skills Council could, in future, be decided locally. Big transport projects like a tram system or second crossing of the Mersey could be given a tremendous boost if it was jointly agreed by councils here.
My career in journalism began on the day the now defunct Merseyside and Greater Manchester Councils were created in 1974. I reported endless rows between the proud cities of Liverpool and Manchester with these upstart counties. The spirit of unity was then no more in evidence on the Irwell than the Mersey. But, under Margaret Thatcher’s threat to privatise the jointly-owned Manchester Airport, Labour and Tory councils united to see her off. A tradition of working together was born.
It’s taking a lot longer on Merseyside, although the need is arguably greater. Insiders who want to see the Merseyside City Region delivering on transport and skills are frustrated by the lack of progress. There’s a feeling that the core city of Liverpool is more interested in building structures to help itself, rather than marshalling behind it the united strength of Sefton, Wirral, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton.
Source: Liverpool Daily Post