Metro Mayors will champion the needs of their city regions
With speculation that Theresa May is planning to row back on plans for Metro Mayors, Labour’s mayoral candidate for Liverpool Steve Rotheram warns against depriving the regions of their fair share of influence.
I’ve always believed George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse was an electorally expedient construct that was not originally intended to include the Liverpool City Region, and beyond the former chancellor I have been sceptical about the strength of the Government’s commitment to deliver on this version of devolution. Indeed, it now seems the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is unenthusiastic about prioritising the former chancellor’s devolution scheme.
However, it was only last year the Conservatives won the general election on the promise to build a Northern Powerhouse and rebalance the UK economy.
Yet within days of taking office as Prime Minister, in what is a thinly-veiled attack on George Osborne’s project, we now hear Mrs May wants a new ‘proper industrial strategy’. This appears to mark a shift in focus away from reviving the northern cities to a broader redistribution of the economy away from an overheating London and the South Eastern economy to all cities across the remainder of England.
But whilst overall productivity in the UK has stagnated since the 2008-9 financial crisis, outside the southeast some areas have actually declined. For example, in Liverpool the economy shrank by 0.8% between 2009 and 2014.
The Devo deal undoubtedly provides an opportunity to direct and join together programmes to achieve the economic growth we need, but with just £30m a year of Government funding to support the new Metro Mayor, any reduction in this commitment would begin to render the exercise meaningless.
As the Government executes what looks like an awkward shift in policy, the impression is created that the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. As recently as October 2015 Mrs May herself voted in favour of devolving powers where electing regional mayors were a compulsory part of the agreement, and government departments continue to parrot statements supportive of existing ‘devo deals’. However, it now appears behind the scenes the Prime Minister wants to row back on the extent of relinquishing control from the Westminster elite.
The thinking inside No 10 is undoubtedly coloured by a new political calculation, namely a fear of the Labour Party securing the powerful Metro Mayor positions with which to champion the needs of their city regions.
But the devolution genie is out of the bottle. I look forward to the Metro Mayor elections in 2017 where voters in the Liverpool City Region will have the opportunity to send Theresa May the message that they want a fair share of influence and resources from a Tory Government that has consistently hit our area the hardest for cuts and marginalised our economic interests.
Steve Rotheram is the Labour Party mayoral candidate for Liverpool and Labour MP for Liverpool Walton