An agonised call for the elected mayors of Merseyside to stop their power battles and get on with promoting the city region was made at a Downtown event in the city this week.
Many of the movers and shakers in the area were kind enough to give their time to look at the city’s development in the ten years since Capital of Culture and what the next decade has in store.
The overriding desire was for Liverpool City mayor Joe Anderson and City Region mayor Steve Rotheram to end their rivalry, agree on who does what, and get on with attracting business and tourism to the area.
The main frustration focuses on the many agencies that are doing bits and pieces to attract jobs and visitors. The demand is for one point of contact, particularly for tourism. The consensus was that this is a job for the city region. Acknowledging that Liverpool is the brand, it was felt that the city region should have this strategic role.
The way in which successive governments have devolved power in the UK is partly to blame. At the Downtown meeting, it was pointed out that the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly could put major funding into attracting business and tourism. Aberdeen and Cardiff are building new conference centres on the back of that. In England, limited power and money has been given to a complex model of Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities. In Merseyside and Greater Manchester, the structure of elected city regional mayors over the top of the proud cities of Manchester and Liverpool is a recipe for rivalry. There are some signs of tension in Greater Manchester but the ten districts generally rub along together. Merseyside on the other hand has had a controversial history at local government level with Wirral and Southport wanting to break away, not to mention the Militant era. The business community had hoped all that was well in the past. Liverpool is transformed compared to twenty years ago but this model of city and city region mayor couldn’t have been better designed to revive the old dysfunctional problems.
Added to the structural problems we have two strong personalities. Joe Anderson, passionate for his city, has done great work since 2010 but he wanted to move on to the wider city region stage. In his way was his old friend Steve Rotheram. A way out would have been for Joe to take over from Steve as MP for Walton. That elegant solution was blocked by Unite The Union who wanted their man in Walton.
Now business people in Liverpool are confused about the powers of both mayors at a time when they know that more will be expected of them in terms of promoting jobs and tourism as the cuts continue to bite in the public sector.
The Downtown event concluded that the next ten years are going to be harder after the rapid progress of the last decade. Specific attention was paid to the continuing problems of accessing the city centre from the M62 and the need to fill hotels during the week. In this respect the city seems to have an opposite problem to many other places who find attracting weekend guests a challenge.
One of the most striking views at the Downtown meeting was that, in respect of tourists visiting Britain, the national image was being tarnished by Brexit. It was thought this could be an opportunity for the Liverpool City Region to promote itself separately.
Let’s hope the mayoral problems can be sorted out because the meeting agreed that the Liverpool City Region with that to-die-for waterfront, friendly people and the enduring power of the Beatles gives it potentially great prospects for the future.
Follow me @JimHancockUK.