Opinion: Liverpool City Region cabinet

In February 2012, Labour controlled Liverpool City Council voted to have an elected mayor without seeking the views of the residents of Liverpool via a referendum. In May 2012, a Labour Mayor was elected.

Now there is a proposal for the six local authorities in the Liverpool City Region (Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens, Wirral and Halton) to establish a combined city region cabinet to promote economic development, transport and employment and skills in the Liverpool City Region.

Whilst it is welcome for local authorities to co-operate, the mechanism of this proposal is hugely undemocratic and has completely bypassed locally elected councillors.

The current Liverpool City Region Cabinet meets in secret, its agendas and minutes of meetings are not available publicly. This body formulated the current proposal without recourse to the views of local councils.

The proposal is lacklustre in the extreme. It is essentially to bumble on with the existing structure with a few minor changes. This proposal lacks ambition, vision and is a missed opportunity.

The scrutiny arrangements in this proposal is to have two members from each of the six local authorities constitute a scrutiny committee. Given the local political demographics this will probably mean twelve Labour Councillors scrutinising a cabinet of six Labour Authority leaders. This is not effective scrutiny. No consideration has been given to ensuring that elected opposition councillors are represented in the scrutiny process.

The opportunities here were to address the ineffective performance of the Liverpool City Region LEP, the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner and unite these functions and potentially others under a directly elected body elected using STV.

The proposal is out for consultation between 2nd August and 6th September with the submission due to be made to government on 30th September. The holiday season is not the time to conduct a consultation if you really wish to generate a real debate and have the views of the public to take into account. I’m not holding my breath on the chance of the consultation exercise resulting in any changes to the proposal.

All of the six local authorities will be discussing this proposal in September, after the public consultation process has been completed. However, in order to achieve the stated deadline of 30th September, to submit the proposal to government, in reality there is no opportunity to make any changes!

This means that locally elected councillors have had no chance to discuss this proposal or have any input at the policy making stage or make any changes to the proposal.

Furthermore, Liverpool City Council does not have any power over this decision, as this now vests with the elected mayor.

So what is the point?

The six Liverpool City Region councils are doing nothing other than rubber stamping a proposal cooked up by six Labour politicians in secret.

* Pat Moloney is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Childwall ward, Liverpool.

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8 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 19th Aug '13 - 6:23pm

    Speaking as a member of the largest Lib Dem group in Merseyside, I can assure you all that everything Pat says about this crooked set-up is true. And the Labour Party in the Liverpool region is expert at pouring millions of pounds of public money down the drain to satisfy their own egos and nothing more. They love nothing more than doing this in private where no dissenting voice is allowed to even attend and listen let-alone speak or vote against. Merseytravel (the local PTA) was the worst example of this – for years a bastion of personal corruption which was finally exposed by the Lib Dems causing Labour knives to be wielded to avoid them all going down with the Captain.

    But take care. These City Region cabals are being promoted by none other that Eric Pickles, the man who talks rubbish like no person on the planet. And if our own Coalition ministers are opposed to this sort of set-up, we need to see some action pretty soon if not to scrap the proposal then seriously to amend it to ensure some form of transparency and accountability.

  • I was born on Merseyside. I worked and was politically active during the Derek Hatton years and remember all too well the consequences of mismanagement by militant control freaks then. Now retired and living elsewhere. I still have affection for my birthplace and I pray that history will not be allowed to repeat itself.

  • Clear Thinker 20th Aug '13 - 3:43am

    I’m sure Tony Dawson is spot on, but even so as a non-specialist in these matters I hope you do not mind if I seek clarification.

    As you suggest, its surely good for the six local authorities to have a forum to discuss cooperation to promote economic development, transport and employment and skills. What matters also though is something that doesn’t seem to be in this article. Will the proposed “city region cabinet” will have powers to make regulations or to decide how money is to be spent, or will they only be able to make proposals which will then need to be debated and decided by the individual local authorities?

    In the latter case, of no regulatory or spending powers, what really is the problem? Even with some such powers, there are well-established precedents where governing groups meet to discuss things without having scrutineers present from opposing groups – the No.10 cabinet is one example.

    As I understand it, one of the aims will be “to access national funding opportunities that will be devolved from central government, and there seems to be a suggestion that you more or less have to form regional groups to get these funds. In which case the people of Liverpool Region might well support the idea. Is this the sort of thing ?….

    http://modgov.sefton.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s47541/Combined%20Authority.pdf
    http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/10584013.print/

    Some articles on the internet mention the 2009 Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act in this connection. What does it say on these matters of transparency and scrutiny and accountability? How is the PCC involved?

  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '13 - 7:46am

    @Clear Thinker

    “there are well-established precedents where governing groups meet to discuss things without having scrutineers present from opposing groups – the No.10 cabinet is one example”

    I’m not sure David Cameron would agree with you that this body contains no representatives of ‘opposing groups’ ! Also Government gets perpetual scrutiny except during the over-long recess periods. This Authority will get no scrutiny at all till long after its secret decisions have been implemented.

  • Clear Thinker 20th Aug '13 - 11:11am

    @Tony Dawson

    Ok, thanks, but does it have powers to regulate or spend? Without them, this “cabinet” would presumably just be a debating group, or a think-tank group, without the ability to “implement”, as you put it.

  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '13 - 1:34pm

    The proposed Cabinet would carve up serious amounts of government money and determine where it goes.

  • Clear Thinker 20th Aug '13 - 3:01pm

    @Tony Dawson. Thanks for the clarification. But in that case I would be astonished if there are not already existing rules about transparency and accountability and scrutiny and democratic action that the proposed Cabinet would be obliged to follow, as well as rules about these things and auditing etc for the donors of the money (central government). Is the complaint that the rules don’t exist, or that they are not being followed?

  • Andy Boddington 20th Aug '13 - 5:19pm

    Pat

    It’s one thing to create a new structure in a static democratic and funding landscape, quite another on today’s shifting sands of local governance.

    This regional council is in effect a rival to the Liverpool LEP. Given that single pot money is due to flow into the LEPs and not to councils, how do you see this playing out? There is not much flexibility in how to spend local authority money in a time of swingeing cuts. LEPs on the other hand are set to have a very flexible bucket of cash. If money is power, then perhaps the LEP holds the trump card?

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