We live in the most politically centralised democracy in the Western world.
And we have the most geographically imbalanced economy in Europe.
These two things are intrinsically linked and have created the ‘disconnect’ many feel with our political system.
For far too long, governments – of all political persuasions – have viewed policy-making decisions through the prism of what is in the best interest of London and the South East.
I spent seven years in Westminster as Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton and I was astonished by how little of what happened within those vaulted halls was being done for the people I was there to represent.
Much has been said of the “Westminster Bubble” and – while it means different things to different people – I believe generations of policy-making tailored to the whims of the political classes rather than the needs of normal, working people has led to a profound lack of trust in the system.
Taking control our own destiny and making more decisions here, rather than in Whitehall, is the first step in rebuilding that trust and bringing about a rebalancing of the national economy.
Because devolution means that we can make decisions that are relevant to our region and make a real difference to the people who live here.
Now having got some control, together we are beginning to show what we can do with it.
Take our Households into Work programme – a four and half million-pound project, up and running, and offering 800 families the support they need to find a job.
We’ve invested £460m in brand new state-of-the-art trains for the Merseyrail network – owned by us the public, so that we don’t have to waste millions leasing 30-year-old ones from a private company.
We’ve just concluded the 2018 International Business Festival - bringing thousands of visitors, from hundreds of countries to the City Region - to discuss trade and investment opportunities.
There’s £5m for Liverpool’s 2018 cultural events programme – the tall ships, giants (in Liverpool - and Wirral), public art and events - rightly putting culture at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.
And a brand-new station at Maghull North, the first to be opened on the Merseyrail network for 20 years, which will allow the development of 2,000 new homes.
So after just over a year as Metro Mayor, my message is – we have achieved a lot but there is much more to do, as we work to transform our city region, with no borough left behind.
Well February has passed in a flash and the pace of activity has certainly not slowed.
The month started by agreeing my first budget as Metro Mayor.
We introduced a £1 off-peak fast-tag, as a first step to reducing the burden of tolling on commuters; commissioned a new ferry to cross the Mersey; and established a Mayoral Priorities Fund to support the Mersey Tidal and digital connectivity projects.
More recently, alongside the Greater Manchester Metro Mayor, Andy Burnham – I called for a Convention of the North – to help our region’s leaders come together and speak with one voice on the big issues facing the North of England including rail investment, Brexit and possible further devolution.
This month has also seen the launch of a £4.5m initiative to tackle long-term unemployment. A team of 24 advocates are completing a two-week induction and will be located in the Combined Authority’s six local authorities. “Households into Work” will support 800 families with two or more adults who are not currently in work.
Drawn from a range of backgrounds, they will work with individuals to identify barriers to entering the workplace and put in place tailored support to overcome those obstacles.
I believe that everyone deserves a second chance to fulfil their potential and one of the ways we will build a fairer and more just City Region is by helping people into meaningful employment.
At the Combined Authority’s Health Summit, earlier in the month, I was also proud to sign a pledge, alongside representatives from the six boroughs, to make our region the first “dementia-friendly” City Region.
This means working with the public, private and voluntary sector to shape our society around the needs of our ageing population. The demographic profile of our City Region is changing and we need to ensure that all of its institutions change with it.
I was also pleased to fulfil another of my manifesto commitments by holding a Housing Summit, attended by major figures across the sector, at which we discussed how we can create the housing we need for the 21st century.
At the summit I challenged the building sector to work with us to make this City Region an exemplar for innovation, sustainability and design excellence.
The coming month promises to be just as productive.
Look out in particular for announcements regarding apprenticeships and further details on a City Region wide music strategy.
We are now at the start of a New Year which will see more exciting plans for how, working together as a Combined Authority, we can continue the process of transforming our City Region.
It has been a busy January preparing our budget for 2018/19, which we have just published.
In it we set out our key priorities for the next 12 months and how, as a Combined Authority, we will spend our resources in support of our vision for an ambitious, fair, green and connected City Region that works better together.
As a streamlined and strategic authority we want to make prudent use of our resources and ensure that money is directed at projects that will deliver growth, investment and opportunity to all our communities.
My role is about ensuring we are spending money where it has a real impact, improving lives and opportunities for people across our City Region.
Through our devolution agreement we have secured an additional £900 million for our City Region over 30 years, money that we have been investing in creating more jobs, apprenticeships and economic growth.
Since my election we have also attracted nearly half a billion pounds in additional money to support investment in roads, transport and combatting homelessness.
Unlike some other Combined Authorities, we will not be charging an additional precept on council tax bills this year, to run the Combined Authority.
Whilst we fully develop plans on a whole host of issues, we are:
- Committing £1.6m to support my mayoral priorities, including digital connectivity, the Mersey Tidal project and exploring the reregulation of buses in the City Region;
- Commissioning a new ferry to cross the River Mersey;
- Introducing a £1 off-peak Fast Tag for Mersey Tunnel users, fulfilling one of my manifesto pledges.
In my last column I set out the arguments for devolution, for how coming together as 1.5 million across six districts gives us more clout and lets us take decisions closer to home, which has enabled us to attract nearly £500 million in extra funding, since I was elected in May last year, for local roads, transport and housing projects.
Government has now invited us to put forward ideas for further devolution, to take even more control over big decisions currently taken in London.
Since my last column, we have been working on a new consultation campaign to find out how we can make devolution work for you. Please keep your eyes open for it and take the opportunity to have your say. We need to ensure that devolution works for you and I need your help to make that happen.
Whether it’s football; rugby, boxing or gymnastics, I think many people in our area, irrespective of their sporting loyalties, expect to be competing at the top of their respective league tables.
As a City Region we are blessed with some outstanding assets - world-class universities, highly successful businesses and above all an abundance of talented and creative people. But, paradoxically, we are facing some very big challenges, highlighted in the recent State of The City Region report.
Across a whole range of economic league tables, including educational attainment; skills, the number of businesses and people in work, we are in the relegation zone – and my job is to change that.
Devolution is our chance to set new levels of ambition and achievement.
I want a high skill, high value economy that creates more businesses, attracts greater levels of investment, develops more entrepreneurs, files more patents - and is more productive and prosperous.
I was recently invited to a Global Mayors gathering in New York under the auspices of Harvard University and former Mayor Bloomberg. It was a chance to share experience and learn from Mayors from cities across the world, delivering transformational change in their cities.
The lessons were clear. Successful cities have inspiring visions and focused leadership. They have clear priorities and can unite politicians, business and communities behind agreed objectives and a shared vision.
One of the most remarkable stories came from the Mayor of Chattanooga - a place that had become a by-word for post-industrial decline. Big ambitions, clear goals and dedicated leadership have turned, what broadcaster Walter Cronkite described as America’s dirtiest city, into a municipal gigabit city.
We know why we’re here, and how our history as the gateway to the first industrial revolution made us the place we are. But what’s our future story?
Without a clear and credible purpose, places decline. Tourism and culture have helped fuelled waterfront and city centre regeneration, but they cannot sustain the future prosperity for all our 1.5 million people.
Next month I am re-joining Mayor Bloomberg at an international conference, paid for by Bloomberg Philanthropies, to look at how small and medium-sized cities carve out their place in the world.
If our historic prosperity was built on connections – transport, commerce and innovation – I believe future connectivity is the way in which we can punch above our weight on the national and international stage.
It’s why the expansion of our port is vitally important in a post-Brexit world, and it’s why I have been campaigning to make sure Government delivers Cross Rail for the North before it builds London’s Cross Rail 2.
But our biggest challenge, and opportunity, is digital connectivity. We can boast genuinely world-class digital assets - including the UK’s most sophisticated super-computer at Daresbury. And we have cutting edge research facilities like Sensor City and The Materials Innovation Centre in Liverpool which are joint ventures with industry and our universities.
We have a cluster of trailblazing digital and tech companies developing new applications in areas like Virtual Reality and Big Data analysis.
But we need to knit things together at a strategic level so we harness this potential by becoming the most digitally connected City Region in the UK, with a super-fast fibre spine connecting every community and every business in every borough, and connected to the wider world through the trans-Atlantic Hibernia cable which reaches the UK mainland at Southport.
We need to be exploiting our coastal location, our bracing micro-climate and the River Mersey to become self- sufficient in green renewable energy to become Britain’s energy coast.
We need big projects with transformational impact. If docks, trains and canals were the foundations for the First Industrial Revolution then digital connectivity and renewable energy are the platform for the Fourth. They are the Holy Grail for business looking for cities with the right skills, infrastructure and assets.
So this is the message I am taking to the Paris Conference. We are competing against some of the major regions of the world, but we have big ambitions. We’re proud and passionate about our history and confident and optimistic about our future.
To contact me, please either call me on 0151 330 1467 or CLICK HERE to send me an email.
14 July 2017
Why devolution really does matter
My 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.
Firstly, we need to understand that the concept of a City Region is not just something invented by people in Whitehall or town halls, but is something rooted in everyday life. Very few people in our area live their lives in only one of our boroughs. Whether we are going to work, returning home, visiting hospital, shopping, eating out, accessing culture or going to the beach or park; we’re crossing boundaries.
Whether we define it as a City Region, or just the place where we live, we’re increasingly connected and the lines on maps are becoming more and more blurred.
Of course, we’re not looking to ignore or devalue local identities. One of the great strengths of our area is its diversity. We’re rightly proud of our towns and villages and their distinctive identities and histories, but we also understand and value the things we have in common.
City Regions are also extremely important to our future economy. We live in one of the most unbalanced countries in Europe with far too much power and wealth concentrated in London and the South East. Growing our City Regions is the only way we are going to rebalance our economy and spread wealth and opportunity.
It’s in City Regions – big urban areas with a critical mass of assets and infrastructure - that businesses can grow, jobs can be created and technological innovation can be nurtured. Thriving City Regions make more successful and prosperous nations.
For Liverpool City Region, this means coming together and realizing that we can be more successful in attracting investment, developing skills and supporting business when we co-operate than we can when we compete against each other. It means making policy that works for everybody, like having a high quality and affordable transport system that makes sure opportunities created in one part of our region can be accessed by people living in every other part.
Devolution and the creation of a Mayoral Combined Authority gives us the chance to think and plan across boundaries, to pool our resources, and make use of extra money and powers from Government for our mutual benefit.
As your first directly elected Metro Mayor, my job is to provide the leadership and vision we need to make the most of this opportunity, but it’s also to be accountable and accessible. For too long too many big decisions about our lives, our public services and our infrastructure needs were taken by people too far away by people who didn’t know or care about our region.
Bringing big decisions closer to home and making them on the basis of what matters most to people living here is what devolution is about. It’s common sense and it really does matter.
To contact me, please either call me on 0151 330 1467 or CLICK HERE to send me an email.