The Case For A Greater Liverpool Combined Authority
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Storey, not least because in the 1970 general election, what seems like a million years ago now, we were both students and friends, and I sent him out on his first election
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day experience. Sad to say, he returned later that day minus the wheels of his car. I thought that that might put him off politics for the rest of his life, but it did not do so. On this occasion I am happy to be able to concur with what he has said, and I thank the Minister for the way that she introduced the orders.
Personally, I entirely approve of and agree with the decision to allow local authorities to create combined authorities. I think that they will encourage strategic cohesion and be a catalyst for economic development, notably job creation and transport, as we have just heard. It will allow the regions to speak to central government with a more united and stronger voice. It will create partnership between boroughs, in this case referring specifically to those on Merseyside, it will create cohesion and partnership between six boroughs, and it will not give disproportionate power to any of them. It is worth saying in this context that some 84% of those living within the city region work there.
I was struck by a report for Liverpool City Council produced in August 2013 by the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson OBE, which he has been good enough to share with me. He states:
“A Combined Authority is not a merger or a takeover of existing local authority functions nor would be a ‘Super-Council’. Instead it would seek to complement local authority functions in economic development regeneration and transport and enhance the effectiveness of the way they are discharged”.
I was struck when reading that report and an earlier one produced in July 2013 by the reasons given by the mayor about why a combined authority would be so worth while. In the earlier report he states that,
“current governance is not helping rebalance the”—
Liverpool city region—
“economy quickly enough; the structural issues highlighted remain issues; a more collaborative approach is required for change; and there is a lack of coordinated delivery structures at present”.
In the August report I see that he points out some of the other challenges facing the Liverpool city region and talks about the opportunities that would be created if such a body was to be set up.
As a one-time member of Merseyside County Council and Liverpool City Council and as a Liverpool Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, I was saddened to see the title of the Liverpool combined authority as it appears on the order which has been laid before the Grand Committee.
The Minister said by way of a curtain raiser to her excellent speech that she thought that this was one of the issues that was most likely to be raised today. Whatever else might be said in its favour, the title, “Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority”, hardly trips off the tongue. This nine-word title is not just clumsy, it is a missed opportunity. This is not just about nomenclature or that ugly word “branding”, which has been used today.
In the early 1970s when Merseyside County Council was established, it puzzled me then that while Greater Manchester capitalised on a name that immediately told everyone in the world where it was, we were not to be known as “Greater Liverpool”, but as Merseyside.
It was a decision based on petty rivalries and parochialism rather than on what was in the best interests of the common good. That lost opportunity weakened Liverpool and actually played into the hands of some of those
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who were agitating against the city and were exploiting some of the problems in the community during the 1980s, disfigured Liverpool’s reputation.
Liverpool is at the very heart of the conurbation, and if a body’s heart is not well cared for, all the other organs will fail, too. During the past two decades the regeneration of Liverpool has become a sine qua non for the regeneration of surrounding boroughs. That success story is something that everyone in the six boroughs should be proud of and celebrate.
I am always struck that wherever I have travelled, even in remote parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, Liverpool’s name immediately elicits a response.
It is synonymous with sport, music and culture. Just think of the extraordinary success in which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was involved in 2008—the Capital of Culture. I do not think that anywhere that has been designated a Capital of Culture has been able to rival the success of that year. Think of the city’s maritime legacy and its world-class universities. I declare an interest as holding a chair at Liverpool John Moores University. Liverpool’s international reputation is further enhanced by the extraordinary work of its school of tropical medicine.
I know from my time as chairman of the Merseyside Special Investment Fund that the city’s economy is in good shape, while its directly elected mayor is proving to be a good ambassador for the city and its interests.
He has also been chair of the better-named Liverpool City Region cabinet for the past three years.
That post of elected mayor was created as a result of the Liverpool Democracy Commission, which I helped to found and on which I served. It has proved to be a great success for the city of Liverpool.
In 1207, King John gave Liverpool its Royal Charter. Since then, there never has been a time in which Liverpool has not been the engine room for the region. It correctly describes itself as “the whole world in one city”. I agree with the Liverpool Echo’s assessment that the city is working,
“at a pace we’ve not seen for, arguably, the last 100 years”,
“it’s growing, it’s exciting and it’s the envy of most of its rivals”.
It is important to underline how vibrant the surrounding boroughs remain. In my professional life, I worked in two of those boroughs and, through the good citizenship award scheme that I founded at my university, I have been able to spend time in those neighbouring boroughs. The award scheme underlines what wonderful young people are emerging all over the region. It is their future that is at stake here, and it is their talent that the combined authority has to harness.
The new authority needs to be instantaneously recognisable. It needs a name that carries clout. It needs a name that exudes confidence and strength. People might mistakenly ask, “What’s in a name?”. “Everything” is the answer. A tongue-twisting piece of gobbledegook is no substitute for a name that would command immediate recognition, and I therefore hope that what the noble Baroness has said this afternoon—that it would be within the discretion of the authority to choose a name that resonates—will be heard loud and clear by the leaders of those six boroughs.
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David Alton ( Lord Alton of Liverpool).